RACINE COUNTY — Over the last three months since the Newtown, Conn., shooting rampage, ideas about proposed gun legislation have filled the news, in Washington and here in Wisconsin.
Those proposals range from universal background checks to banning the sale of assault weapons and limiting the capacity of magazines. This week, The Journal Times asked Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling to weigh in on the gun debate and explain how he feels about the proposals.
What is your opinion about universal background checks, where checks would occur for private individuals selling guns and guns sold at gun shows?
I am opposed to any regulation that would require a farmer in Waterford, for example, to somehow conduct and/or pay for a background check on the neighboring farmer to whom he wanted to sell a firearm. I am equally opposed to an uncle being required to conduct and/or pay for a background check in order to sell his nephew a deer rifle at deer camp in the North Woods.
Rather than trying to strip away our constitutional rights, I believe lawmakers need to define private sales and retail sales. More regulation will increase straw purchases. If a criminal is bent on doing evil, he or she will simply find a weapon on the street or solicit a third party to make the weapon purchase.
How do you feel about limiting magazine sales to those with a maximum capacity of 10 bullets?
Placing limits on magazine capacity will do absolutely nothing to stop or curb firearm violence. Anyone with minimal practice can change a magazine in seconds. A simple YouTube search will show many examples.
How do you feel about proposals to ban assault weapon sales? Are they a problem in our community?
A ban on so-called “assault rifles” will do nothing to curb violence or firearm violence. We have nothing to fear from law-abiding citizens owning firearms. It is the criminal who possesses a firearm who is dangerous and who clearly ignores the gun laws.
Evil people who are intent on killing will do so irrespective of any weapon ban or magazine capacity limit. It really is common sense. It is my job as your sheriff to protect the constitutional rights of our law-abiding citizens, including the Second Amendment, not restrain them.
There are also proposals to make straw purchases (a purchase wherein an agent agrees to acquire a good or service for someone who is unable or unwilling to purchase the good or service himself) a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. Are straw purchases a problem in Racine County and should the law change?
I support felony charges for “straw purchases” just like I support swift and severe punishment for those who commit violence of any form against innocents.
What is your department doing to try to keep guns out of criminals’ hands?
We are always vigilant when it comes to criminals illegally possessing any sort of gun. We regularly conduct investigations in that vein. A perfect example is a search warrant we executed Thursday morning in Burlington where we seized a substantial amount of illegal drugs and a number of weapons, including an AK-47.
Do you have any idea how criminals in our area are obtaining guns? Is there anything more that could be done to keep them out of their hands?
There are virtually countless ways criminals obtain guns. They are sold in the black market on the street from criminal to criminal, stolen during residential burglaries, traded for drugs, etc.
Citizens who own firearms are encouraged to lock them up safely in their homes, making it difficult for burglars to steal and safe for our friends and family members.
In the gun debate that is going on now, what information do you think is important to point out to the public?
Rather than infringing on the constitutional rights of our citizenry, we should be concentrating on stiffer sentences for criminals who commit violence, including gun violence, against innocent law-abiding citizens. What’s more, changes in the mental health laws that would assist law enforcement in identifying, helping, and potentially stopping individuals with significant mental health issues from committing violent acts would be a huge step in the right direction. Evil criminals and disturbed individuals are the ones committing the violent crime, not decent law-abiding citizens.
It is also important to point out that nationwide between 1992 and 2011, the violent crime rate in the U.S. has fallen by almost 50 percent (from 757.7 crimes per 100,000 to 386.3 per 100,000). What’s more, both the murder rate and the violent crime rates are lower today than in 2004 when the so-called “assault weapon” ban was lifted. The source is the FBI’s uniform crime statistics.
This sums up how I feel about the proposals: We must not allow the actions of a few cowards who are bent on evil to promote any laws that infringe upon the Constitutional liberties of responsible and law-abiding citizens in Racine County.