Does State Representative Dan Knodl, 24th Assembly district, present a threat to public health and safety with his new "anyone, any gun, anywhere" bill? On the basis of his co-authorship of Assembly Bill 247, the question bears asking.
The bill would eliminate the requirement for a background check, training, and permit in order to carry a concealed weapon. When asked to reconsider allowing the bill to come up for a vote, Rep. Knodl replied:
I am a co-sponsor and supporter of LRB – 2039.
Current law allows individuals without a license to open carry anywhere in Wisconsin that is not currently posted. This bill would allow those individuals to simply put on a jacket without becoming a criminal. It would make further changes to ensure that those individuals who choose to carry concealed are able to pick up their children from school without inadvertently committing a felony. School districts, private entities, and local governments would still be able to decide on the local level if they would like to post their buildings, and in the case of schools, if they’d also like to post their grounds. If a building is posted, a person carrying a firearm may not enter. I would expect that most districts will choose to post their property and buildings.
Perhaps Rep. Knodl should learn a lesson from a recently deceased, former Republican Congressman named Jay Dickey. In the mid-1990s, Representative Dickey attached an obscure amendment that prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from spending any funds to conduct research on the public health effects of firearm violence. The bill to which the amendment was attached passed and was signed into law in 1996.
Sixteen years later — long after he had left Congress and just after the Aurora movie theater massacre — he recanted his earlier position. Together with Mark Rosenberg, who had been the director of the disease control center’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control when Dickey’s amendment became law, Dickey published an op-ed in the Washington Post reversing his earlier position.
Dickey and Rosenberg pointed out that “while about the same number of Americans died from guns as from automobile accidents, the government spent $240 million a year on traffic safety research but virtually nothing on firearm safety. The automobile studies … had been effective, credited with saving more than 350,000 lives since 1975 and producing practical results like child restraints, seatbelts, frontal airbags, highway dividers, a minimum drinking age and motorcycle helmets. Yet firearms safety research had been neglected, they said, even though research suggested that ‘childproof locks, safe-storage devices and waiting periods save lives’” (Sam Roberts, Jay Dickey, Arkansas Lawmaker Who Blocked Gun Research, Dies at 77, New York Times, April 24, 2017).
They concluded that
as a consequence U.S. scientists cannot answer the most basic question: What works to prevent firearm injuries? We don’t know whether having more citizens carry guns would decrease or increase firearm deaths; or whether firearm registration and licensing would make inner-city residents safer or expose them to greater harm. We don’t know whether a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, or limiting access to ammunition, would have saved lives in Aurora, or would make it riskier for people to go to a movie. And we don’t know how to effectively restrict access to firearms by those with serious mental illness” (We won’t know the cause of gun violence until we look for it, July 27, 2012).
After a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, President Barack Obama called on the Centers for Disease Control to investigate gun violence, but a Republican-controlled Congress, under pressure from the firearms industry, would not fund the research.
Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners,” Mr. Dickey reiterated in 2015, “in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile. All this time that we have had, we would’ve found a solution, in my opinion,” Mr. Dickey told National Public Radio in 2015. “And I think it’s a shame that we haven’t” (Roberts).
So, what works to prevent firearm injuries? What works to prevent firearm deaths? What works to promote gun safety? Mr. Dickey came to a conclusion late in life that neither enough time nor enough money has been invested into research into gun violence and that without proper research, there are no proper solutions.
In the State of Wisconsin, what research has gone into the drafting of AB 247? Is AB 247 being offered merely as a convenience for gun owners? Does convenience trump safety?
Until resources have been budgeted for research into the health effects of shootings, which can be done without infringing on the rights of gun owners, no new laws that would relax current gun ownership laws should be proposed.
It is the responsibility of the State Legislature to emulate Rep. Dickey, invest in research and evolve with its findings.
If the “anyone, any gun, anywhere” philosophy moves from proposal into law without a deliberative, muscular research period, the proliferation of guns in the State of Wisconsin will have moved from a public health threat into a public health crisis, and the burden of the consequence of the law will lie at the feet of Rep. Knodl and his party.