STATE OF THE STATE (copy) (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker does not support arming teachers to protect students, he told reporters Wednesday.

That's a break from other prominent conservatives in the state, including Attorney General Brad Schimel, who said last week he would offer firearm training to school employees if lawmakers allowed it, and U.S. Senate candidates Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson, who both said they were open to the idea.

Walker gave a direct "no" when asked whether he is considering the possibility. 

"I think, having talked to teachers, most teachers aren’t interested in that," Walker told reporters. "We want something that’s going to help school districts across the board, so those are the things we’re focusing on."

Walker said he has had several conversations with lawmakers who are drafting a comprehensive school safety legislative package. The conversations began after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead earlier this month.

He declined to offer specifics on what such a plan would include. Asked whether he supports raising the age to purchase an AR-15 weapon from 18 to 21, he said he doesn't want to stake positions on specific issues while negotiating with lawmakers. 

Any school safety policies should be modeled after the U.S. government's approach to safety precautions on public transportation and airplanes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Walker said.

"I think the most critical thing for us there was making sure people who would cause harm, at that point to people using transportation, were blocked from getting in there. I think most of us certainly feel very safe today, years after that," Walker said. "We need to have that same approach when it comes to schools, making sure that no child, no student, no teacher, no parent should ever have to be afraid of being threatened."

The state Assembly voted last week on party lines to reject a proposal to require universal background checks for gun purchases in Wisconsin, opting instead to offer funds for armed guards in schools and crack down on "straw purchasing." The measure to support armed safety guards passed 71-24, with the support of all Republicans and 11 Democrats.

An effort by Senate Democrats to allow schools to exceed their revenue limits to implement school safety plans was blocked by the Republican majority last week. 

Democrats have also proposed reinstating a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, banning the sale of bump stocks and banning anyone with a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction from owning a firearm.

"Wisconsin families should have the opportunity to feel safe in community spaces like schools, parks, places of worship, workplaces, and health centers free from the threat of deadly weapons and dangerous individuals," said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, in a statement. "It is wrong that powerful gun lobbyists are able to override local families and write rules that threaten Wisconsin communities."

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Walker, who received about $3.5 million from the National Rifle Association for elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, disputed the argument that contributions from gun rights groups influence policy. He noted that he differs with the group on whether to give firearms to teachers.

"If people support me or not based upon my positions and my actions, it’s open to anyone out there who wants to support me based on my actions," Walker said.

The Senate is expected to return to the floor on March 20. Assembly leaders have said they will not return after having completed their work last week. 

Walker could call a special session to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol.

"We're talking about that right now," he said.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.