Preparing this column gave me a great opportunity to reflect on my first year serving in the state Assembly. As I did so, I realized there were countless topics I could write about that are urgent matters for Milwaukee and for our state, most of which, unfortunately, have been left by current Republican leadership for future legislatures and governors to address. Topics that immediately came to mind were the enormous racial inequities in incarceration, a re-commitment to adequately funding our public schools and universities, ensuring everyone has access to quality healthcare, solving our transportation and infrastructure borrowing problem, and simply making sure kids and families have access to food and shelter – all issues with potential solutions if we had leaders willing to make tough decisions.
But the topic that struck me as perhaps the fastest growing crisis we face as a community is the epidemic of gun violence that has grown out of control, plaguing us both locally and throughout our country.
Each time there is a mass shooting in our country, a media firestorm thankfully still exists to get policymakers to go on record. Some offer genuine sympathy for victims, refuse to accept this as commonplace, and discuss some of the tools that exist to actually do something about this crisis. Others offer a platitude of “thoughts and prayers,” a brief acknowledgement of the suffering these families endure that at best can be characterized as superficial when unaccompanied by efforts to solve the problem.
Yet in smaller scale shootings involving one, two, maybe three victims, we no longer hear a politician’s refusal to allow this to become commonplace – because it has. Promises of prayer without action are no longer heard. It’s just another day in the life to see a fleeting headline in local papers that gun violence has yet again taken precious lives right here in our city.
On July 10, after 10 shooting deaths in just eight days that included the deaths of two young boys aged 13 and 14, I wrote a letter to Governor Walker asking that he declare a state of emergency in Milwaukee and proposing that he coordinate with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to deploy trauma informed care specialists, psychologists, and grief counselors to the neighborhoods traumatized by this bloodshed.
My letter went without response as Governor Walker stayed the course on his policy of turning a blind eye toward the suffering in his state’s largest city, one he served as Milwaukee County Executive for eight long years.
According to the Journal Sentinel’s Homicide Tracker, 88 homicides had occurred in Milwaukee by July 10 – surpassing 2014’s total of 87 just over halfway through the year.
It’s no secret that the governor had other priorities at the time – a few days after receiving my letter, he made his doomed presidential run official. During those 71 days, Walker logged a total of 58 hours doing actual work as governor. Once his failed campaign had come and gone, Walker returned home to advance an aggressive agenda. His priorities: exempting corrupt politicians from John Doe investigations, replacing the Government Accountability Board with partisan appointees, and making it easier for dark money to influence elections in Wisconsin.
That is, making it easier for millions of dollars to flow from undisclosed donors via groups like the NRA who already have a stranglehold on legislators who might otherwise make efforts to pass even the slightest reforms to ensure firearms don’t get into the wrong hands.
The commonsense reforms we could make are not extreme. Some, like simply requiring background checks for nearly all transactions or a brief waiting period, have overwhelming public support, including majority support from members of the NRA. Even conservative US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a majority opinion that “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapons whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Despite vast support from their members and commonsense remarks from folks like Justice Scalia, the NRA and Republican elected officials remain committed to obstructing basic, life-saving reforms.
As I write this column, Journal Sentinel’s unofficial tally shows 150 homicides have occurred in Milwaukee in 2015, 124 of which were carried out using firearms. We are closing in on the record 165 homicides recorded in 1991, yet our governor and Republican legislators continue to take pride in serving the pro-death agenda of the NRA by doing exactly what the NRA demands of them – nothing.
I hope you’ll join me in refusing to give up on ending the bloodshed in our community.