Gun Violence Problem Will Follow Paul Ryan Back To Wisconsin

Milwaukee saw a 69 percent increase in homicides from 2014 to 2015.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has rejected Democrats' efforts to bring a vote on gun control legislation, calling their sit-in on the House floor this week nothing more than a "publicity stunt."

"This is not trying to come up with a solution to a problem," Ryan said Wednesday. "This is trying to get attention."

But the issue likely won't go away easily, especially because there is strong public support for certain gun control measures. Democrats have promised to continue to bring it up, both in Washington and around the country, as lawmakers go home to their districts for the July 4 recess.

And while Republicans say they don't like the specific proposals put forward by Democrats, they haven't coalesced and committed themselves to an alternative.

The issue will follow Ryan back home as well. Ryan's hometown, Janesville, is about an hour away from Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city. Milwaukee saw a 69 percent increase in homicides from 2014 to 2015, which Police Chief Edward Flynn has attributed to the proliferation of firearms.

"When you dramatically ease the availability of firearms and maintain weak criminal penalties, you of course facilitate the use of deadly violence among those committed to a criminal lifestyle and innocent victims affected by the crossfire," Flynn said in January.

He has also pointed to the state's 2011 concealed carry law as a possible contributing factor. And in response to the rise in homicides, the local paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, commissioned a two-year, 100-part series about young people and gun violence.

This week, Democrats wanted votes on legislation that would bar people on the terrorist watch lists from getting guns and another bill that would close background-check loopholes for firearm sales at gun shows and online.

In the past, Ryan has said he's open to changes to gun laws. In 2013, he called the idea of closing the gun show loophole "reasonable" and "obvious."

"I think we need to find out how to close these loopholes and do it in such a way that we don’t infringe upon people’s Second Amendment rights," he said in an interview with Journal-Sentinel's editorial board.

"We had this issue, 2001, 1999 I think … when I first got into Congress," he added. "At the time I remember thinking, 'You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that.'"

Ryan's office did not return a request for comment.

Eighty-six percent of Americans support preventing suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms, and 62 percent back a ban on the sale of assault rifles.

The Journal-Sentinel weighed in this week and praised Democrats for their sit-in, writing that "to think that the Democrats' 25-hour protest on the House floor was only a publicity stunt is to devalue it."

"Congressional inaction on what amounts to a chronic public health issue -- gun violence -- is deplorable," the editorial board said. "Congress should listen to the vast majority of the American people and pass bills to limit access to certain weapons and make sure that suspects on terrorist watch lists can't get their hands legally on guns. Lawmakers also should require universal background checks."

Opponents of the Democrats' bills have argued that too many people are swept into the government's no-fly and terrorist watch lists. It's hard for people to get off those lists when they're put on them in error, and they shouldn't have their Second Amendment rights taken away because of a mistake.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) conceded that their bills are "not perfect" but faulted Republicans for not taking up the issue at all.

"They don't even want to start that process," he said Thursday. "We need to go through it and we need to take action."

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