Does WI have a red-flag gun law? What you need to know


Wisconsin doesn’t have a red-flag law, which allows for temporary firearm removal from individuals believed to be at risk of harming themselves or others. 

A Lee Enterprises review reveals that lawmakers in 31 states have not passed red-flag laws even as most of those states received federal funding through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. 

The policy, which exists in 19 states and D.C., is one that gun-safety advocates are pushing for once again across the U.S. in the aftermath of the late March Nashville school shooting, which killed six people. 

More than 80% of Wisconsin voters support a red-flag law, according to a 2022 poll conducted by Marquette University, and the policy is supported by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. But a proposal creating an extreme risk protection order program, promoted by Wisconsin Democrats, never got a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2022.

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Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Democratic legislators introduced gun safety legislation in Madison on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

In addition, none of Wisconsin’s Republican congressional members supported the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which contains funding for states to create and implement red-flag laws. However, states without red-flag laws can use it for other gun violence reduction programs. 

“This bill provides resources to states to adopt red-flag laws without requiring sufficient due process to those accused — thereby eroding Second Amendment protections,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said in a statement last June. “I simply cannot support it.”

However, after the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed, Wisconsin applied for and was awarded about $4.2 million in funding made available from the bill.

“Wisconsin does not have an extreme risk protection order law, so the funding will be focused primarily on research around gun violence in Wisconsin and then on behavioral health deflection, court-based programs, and related training or outreach programs,” according to the federal funding application submitted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

State officials will “conduct extensive research on existing programs, gaps in behavioral health and court-based programs, and will build partnerships with organizations and agencies working on reducing gun violence and increasing access to mental health services,” according to Wisconsin officials.

The state also intends to educate the public about its existing firearm seizure law, which prohibits people committed for mental-health-related treatment from owning firearms. Courts in Wisconsin may also designate another person to store the firearm until the order has ended, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Lisa Geller, director of state affairs at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, discusses red-flag gun laws in the United States. 

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office said they are working to hire two grant managers who will coordinate how the funding is spent.

“Implementation of an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) is not possible without legislative change in Wisconsin,” according to Gillian Drummond, director of communications for the Wisconsin Department of Justice. “In Attorney General Kaul’s Safer Wisconsin plan, in addition to ERPO, he called for expanding background checks to all gun purchases, prohibiting ghost guns, increasing penalties for repeat felon-in-possession and straw purchasing offenses, and a $10 million grant program for violence prevention services.

“The plan also called for four additional positions at Wisconsin DOJ focused on violent crime: two special agents and two assistant attorneys general,” Drummond continued. “The state Legislature has not taken up this legislation.”

Gun-safety experts have said red-flag laws are working across the U.S. to prevent mass shootings and curb suicides and domestic violence. 

Wisconsin had more than 700 firearm deaths in 2020, or a death rate of 12.2 per 100,000 people, according to federal data.

How gun commerce has changed in Wisconsin since 2010

Gun sales and ownership have been hotly debated topics in the U.S. for decades, with many interested parties vying to be heard. The 1994 federal assault weapons ban was vigorously lobbied against by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, which argued that the legislation violated the Second Amendment. When the ban expired in 2004, it was not renewed by Congress.

Since its expiry, many studies have been conducted about the impact the assault weapons ban had on both gun commerce and incidents of gun-related deaths. One of the most cited was a study conducted by researchers at New York University, showing that mass shooting related homicides went down while the ban was in effect. Many have called for a new ban to be enacted, but no legislation has currently been proposed.

In a post-1994 ban world, gun commerce has increased in the U.S. during the last decade by all metrics. There are more active federal firearm licenses, National Firearms Act taxpayers, and a marked increase in the number of National Firearms Act manufacturers and dealers.

Stacker analyzed data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearmsand Explosives to determine how gun commerce has changed in Wisconsin since 2010.

Keep reading to see how gun commerce has changed in your state in the last decade.

Wisconsin gun commerce by the numbers

– 3.3% increase in federal firearms licenses from 2010-2020

— From 2,757 licenses in 2010 to 2,848 in 2020

– 327.9% increase in total National Firearm Act taxpayers from 2010-2020

— From 86 taxpayers in 2010 to 368 in 2020

– 546.2% increase in National Firearm Act dealer taxpayers from 2010-2020

— From 39 dealer taxpayers in 2010 to 252 in 2020

Hayleigh Colombo is a member of the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism Team.

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