A look at Wisconsin's gun debate - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

A look at Wisconsin's gun debate

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SHAWANO (WAOW) -

On the evening of January 4th, a bar fight between two men escalated into a shootout on a residential street in the City of Shawano.

"Shots were exchanged between the two,” Shawano Police Chief Mark Kohl said, but added that no one was hit during the incident. "It was fortunate for us that no one was hurt, but the consequences of that could have been grave if someone would have been hurt or a bystander were hurt."

The incident involved two men possessing two legally-obtained guns, resulting in an incident that almost ended in tragedy. It's a local story that raises a question that's been asked throughout the nation: do guns make us safer?

For Matt Wasmundt, owner of Zingers and Flingers gun store in Marathon City, the answer to the question is obvious.

"I think there's no debate,” Wasmundt said. “Anybody who would argue the fact of a lawful citizen having a firearm on them and not being safer is a fool."

While Wasmundt is a clear supporter of the Second Amendment, he said is still in favor of some regulation to ensure weapons don't make their way into the wrong hands.

"If it was as simple as a background check, then I would support a background check,” Wasmundt said. “Felons shouldn't get firearms. Unfortunately, there's enough guns out there that they're gonna get one."

Upstairs at Zingers and Flingers, Mandy Krautkramer attended a concealed carry-class.

"I mean you hear about all these shootings that are going on,” Krautkramer said. "At least if I know the basics and I have my own I can protect myself and at least feel a little more safe."

According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 487 gun-related deaths in Wisconsin in 2014, the latest year with available data. Per capita, Wisconsin's rate is actually lower than most states. Despite Wisconsin's lower-than-average gun-death rate, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence still slaps the state with a "D" letter grade for its relatively lax gun laws. The center cites several factors in its grade, including the removal of the 48-hour waiting period to buy a hand gun, lack of background checks for private gun sales, and the allowance for people previously convicted of violent misdemeanors to still own guns.

But some are working to tighten firearm regulation in Wisconsin.

"We can make changes that won't be offensive to gun owners and will save lives," said Jeri Bonavia, founder of the Wisconsin Anti Violence Effort, an organization aimed at preventing gun-related violence, death, and injuries. Bonavia advocates for background checks on all gun sales, not just on sales that take place at regulated dealers like Zingers and Flingers.

"Any negatives we're hearing are coming from the lobbying organizations. From the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying organizations. And frankly we are not sure why they're so opposed to this. Other than it would cut down the sales to people who shouldn't have guns – people who won't pass a background check."

The NRA failed to respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

But even stricter background checks wouldn't have prevented the incident in Shawano, where both shooters legally possessed weapons.

"[Gun owners] still have to abide by the laws and regulations of the state of Wisconsin,” Chief Kohl said. “We processed the scene, investigated, continue to investigate,and the persons, both of them, were charged by the Shawano County District Attorney."

The cases for both Shawano shooters are still ongoing. Both men are charged with felony counts of recklessly endangering safety.

While guns may have escalated the altercation in Shawano, Cheif Kohl said he supports those exercising their right to bear arms. But with this right, comes the ultimate responsibility.

"Once they pull that trigger, they cannot take that bullet back."

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