Fact Sheet

Fact Sheet: Dangerous Gun Laws in Wisconsin

Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of MAGA Republican laws has prevented an even more severe rise in gun violence.

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People join a rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, to show support for students who finished the last leg of a 50-mile journey calling attention to gun violence.
People join a rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, to show support for students who finished the last leg of a 50-mile journey calling attention to gun violence in the state on March 28, 2018. (Getty/Scott Olson)

During their period of trifecta control from 2011 to 2019, Wisconsin Republicans enacted gun legislation that both increased the presence of guns in communities and made it easier for dangerous people to access firearms. The results have been deadly and are felt to this day, as violent crime is up across the Badger State. But the sad truth is gun crime in Wisconsin could be far worse. Since he took office in 2019, Gov. Tony Evers (D) has vetoed numerous pieces of dangerous Republican legislation that would have undermined commonsense gun safety laws.

Republicans, who still maintain control of the legislature, have blocked all of Gov. Evers’ efforts to improve gun safety in the state—despite the surge in violent crime and the overwhelming popularity of commonsense gun policies such as universal background checks and “red flag” laws. They even went as far as ending the special session that Gov. Evers called to address gun crime in mere seconds.

Republican leaders are set to continue weakening gun laws and prioritizing the gun lobby over Wisconsinites’ safety. Without Gov. Evers, they would have passed policies that would have made the already rising rates of gun crime much worse. Electing Democrats who will work to reduce gun violence in Wisconsin has never been more important.

From 2011 to 2019, Republicans maintained trifecta control over Wisconsin, and they systematically gutted gun safety laws

  • Former Gov. Scott Walker (R), who received almost $4 million from the National Rifle Association (NRA) throughout his career, signed a concealed carry weapon (CCW) policy into law right after being elected. The law allows Wisconsinites to carry concealed firearms in their communities after obtaining a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
  • The Wisconsin CCW law is particularly permissive, as it requires law enforcement agencies to issue a CCW permit to anyone who meets the minimal requirements, eliminating any law enforcement discretion to deny an application. Recent studies have concluded that states with more permissive concealed carry laws, such as Wisconsin, have higher rates of gun homicides than states with regulations that provide law enforcement agencies the discretion to deny CCW licenses.
    • In Wisconsin, this means that law enforcement would be required to grant a CCW permit to a man with a domestic violence record.
  • Walker also enacted Wisconsin’s “Castle Doctrine ” legislation in 2011, providing protections for people who use force, including deadly force, on intruders to their property. While Republicans often cite the policy as a self-defense right, Castle Doctrine legislation has instead increased violent crime: States that have passed the policy have seen an 8 percent increase in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter.
  • In 2015, just one week after the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine African American parishioners were killed during a Bible study, Walker signed bills to repeal the state’s 48-hour waiting period policy for handgun purchases. For 40 years prior, Wisconsin required firearms dealers not to sell a handgun until 48 hours after a Wisconsin Department of Justice background check of the customer was completed.
    • Waiting period policies are an effective tool for suicide and mass shooting prevention, and studies show that when waiting period policies are enforced, both suicide and homicide rates are reduced.

These laws can be linked to the state’s increase in violent crime

  • According to Center for American Progress analysis of publicly available data from local agencies, the FBI, and other national databases, violent crime increased drastically in Wisconsin after the CCW law was implemented. While rates of violent crime were actually declining before 2012, gun homicides, aggravated assaults that involve a gun, and gun-related assaults against law enforcement officers all increased in the years following the enactment of the CCW legislation.

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  • The CCW law is also associated with a significant rise in gun sales and gun theft in Wisconsin. Studies consistently demonstrate that places with more guns experience more gun deaths, so these upticks also contribute to the state’s increase of gun crimes.

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  • The Republican CCW legislation also has had lethal effects on law enforcement, as gun-related homicides and aggravated assaults of police officers rose after the implementation of the law. According to FBI data, the number of gun-related assaults against police officers rose by 63 percent from 2012 to 2019.
  • The impact of the dangerous laws passed by Republicans before Gov. Evers took office has been long-lasting, with rates of violent crime continuing to increase dramatically in recent years. From 2019 to 2020, the state saw a 70 percent increase in homicides and a 8.85 percent increase in the rate of violent crime.
    • Evers proposed laws to reduce gun crime during the same period, but they were ultimately blocked by Republican leadership in the legislature.

Republicans in the state legislature would have further undermined law enforcement and weakened gun laws if not for Gov. Evers’ veto pen

  • In 2021, Gov. Evers rejected Republican state lawmakers’ attempt to prevent any federal bans or restrictions on semi-automatic firearms, assault-style weapons, or large-capacity magazines from being enforced within Wisconsin borders.
  • In the 2022 legislative session, the Republican-led legislature sent three bills to Gov. Evers desk that would have expanded the already permissive and dangerous CCW policy:
    • A.B. 495 would have expanded concealed carry to allow loaded firearms on school grounds, reversing the state’s gun-free school zone policy.
    • A.B. 597 would have expanded concealed carry to allow firearms in places of worship, including on school property. This bill also would have significantly weakened the gun-free school zone statute in the state.
    • A.B. 518 would have expanded the state’s law to recognize permits from other states, regardless of whether those states conduct background checks in their permitting processes.
  • Republicans also introduced legislation this year that would have lowered the age for getting a concealed weapons permit from 21 down to 18. Numerous studies have shown that when young people have access to guns, they commit homicides at high rates and are at an elevated risk of attempting suicide.
  • Evers has worked to pass gun safety policies that would make Wisconsin safer:
  • Without Gov. Evers’ veto of Republican legislation to expand gun rights, Wisconsin gun laws would be even weaker and could have followed the footprints of other states still controlled by Republican trifectas. Many Republican-led states with weaker gun laws are experiencing higher homicide rates than Wisconsin, as FBI data shows.

If Republicans win in November, they will plow ahead with proposals to further expand gun rights

  • Despite evidence that the state’s already permissible CCW law is responsible for increased rates of violent crime in the Badger State and the fact that 76 percent of Wisconsin residents oppose the idea, three of the four GOP candidates in the primary race for governor proposed to weaken the law to no longer require any training or permit whatsoever to concealed carry a firearm in public places, including schools.
  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels has vowed to oppose gun safety measures if he is elected, ignoring the 80 percent of voters who want universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders. He has even gone as far as to say that domestic abusers should continue to have access to firearms.
    • Michels also suggested he opposed the recently passed Bipartisan Safety Communities Act, which would, among other provisions, provide states funding to implement extreme risk laws.

Conclusion

Despite increases in violent crime in Wisconsin, Republican legislators are laser-focused on weakening gun safety laws. At the expense of public safety, they have advanced the gun lobby’s agenda by expanding access to concealed carry permits and removing mandatory wait times.

In the years following the implementation of these dangerous gun policies, the state has seen rates of violent crime continue to rise. Despite evidence of surging rates of gun violence, Republicans have continued to advance policies that will make guns easier for dangerous people to access and pare back even the mildest gun safety measures. Fortunately, Democratic Gov. Evers has served as a backstop for Wisconsin’s gun laws, blocking Republican attempts to weaken them further.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Author

the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Explore The Series

A woman walks through a field of flowers representing deaths from gun violence.

As Republican elected officials and candidates continue to make false claims about Democrats’ record on crime and public safety, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is setting the record straight about the true cause of increases in violent crime: access to guns. This series of fact sheets shows how increases in crime are directly linked to dangerous gun laws passed by Republicans.

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