A Republican effort to ease controls on purchases of rifles and shotguns from out of state might please hunters, but at least one Democrat sees it as an act of subservience to the National Rifle Association.
Senate Bill 285 would allow Wisconsin residents to purchase long guns from dealers anywhere in the U.S. Since 1971, state law has limited such transactions to states bordering Wisconsin.
“It’s just common sense,” said Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, who plans to introduce the Assembly version of the bill. “The NRA had talked to me about it, and I’m sure they probably talked to Sen. (Tom) Tiffany,” the bill’s lead Senate sponsor.
Spiros said he also talked to some hunters who felt strongly in favor of the change.
In 1968 amid rising worries about armed criminals, the federal Gun Control Act was enacted banning interstate sales of firearms, while allowing an exception for long guns sold by federally licensed firearms dealers to residents of contiguous states. Wisconsin adopted the standard in 1971.
Then in 1986, the federal Firearms Owners Protection Act was passed allowing states to drop the bordering-states restriction.
Spiros, a freshman representative, said he didn’t know why Wisconsin’s restriction wasn’t dropped sooner.
“It’s like anything else we’re cleaning up,” Spiros said.
Gun control advocate Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said the restrictions are being lifted now because state government is dominated by Republicans and because the NRA has a grip on state legislatures across the country.
“This is gun season in that regard,” Berceau said, noting that two Colorado legislators recently were recalled over the support for gun control legislation.
She noted a draft bill requiring background checks for gun buyers that she and other Democrats unveiled in March has died. The proposal would have required background checks for those who buy firearms at gun shows, flea markets or on the Internet, and for transactions between individual owners. It hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing, Berceau said, and it’s unlikely it will be.
Most gun crimes involve handguns, so the bill loosening limits on rifle sales isn’t as pressing to gun-control advocates as other proposals, said Berceau and others seeking more restrictions to prevent crimes.
“I am guessing that they see an opportunity now for anything related to firearms to get an affirmative vote in this legislature,” Berceau said.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said he suspects hunters will be in favor of the bill.
“They may find what they are looking for at a better price, (and) there may be guns — and you get this especially with people who have sufficient resources and refined tastes for guns — there may be a gun that they just can’t find except in a few places in the United States,” Meyer said.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the proposal didn’t seem problematic because it involves long guns, not handguns. Palmer said most other states have dropped the contiguous state restriction.
At the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, senior staff attorney Laura Cutilletta said interstate gun sales are worrisome because sellers don’t always know the laws in other states.
Tiffany could not be reached for comment.