Officers search for the ticket to the ‘big picture’ on gun control

If Wisconsin is going to enact gun control laws, it must be a comprehensive approach and not deal with the issue on a piecemeal basis, an official with a state police officers union said Tuesday.

“We’ve always struggled with this as an organization. Our members have been really divided by this,” James Palmer II, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said during an Eau Claire interview.

State gun control laws cannot just deal with mental health issues or background checks, he said.

“It has to be a broad-based approach,” Palmer said. “It has to be a total package.”

Assault weapons have been a “hot-button” issue since the December elementary school shooting in Connecticut. But law enforcement officers in the state’s metropolitan areas may have a different take on the issue than their rural counterparts, said Mike Chinander, a 15-year veteran of the Eau Claire Police Department who serves on the boards of directors for both Palmer’s organization and the Eau Claire Professional Police Association.

“Milwaukee officers may have a different view of this than those of us working in this part of the state,” he said.

Chinander can’t recall any Eau Claire homicide over the past 15 years that involved an assault weapon.

The WPPA conducted a poll in January that showed 47 percent of the state’s residents believe laws covering the sales of firearms should be more strict. Forty-three percent believe the laws should be kept the same while 8 percent want less stricter laws.

“The general public understands it’s a complicated issue,” Palmer said.

Wisconsin lawmakers seem to be waiting to see what Congress and President Obama do on gun control laws before addressing the issue, Palmer said.

But both Palmer and Chinander agree a consistent background check law is needed.

“That’s one of the issues where we seem to have a consensus,” Palmer said of law enforcement officers statewide.

“On any given weekend you can go to a gun show in Wisconsin,” Chinander said. “And you can pick a gun up without a background check.”

But if you buy a gun from a retail store, you’re subject to a background check, he said.

“I’d like to see the whole system tightened up,” said Chinander, a gun owner and hunter.

“It would be naive to say we need to get rid of them all,” he said of guns.

On another matter, Chinander and Palmer agree Wisconsin needs to consider getting tougher on drunken drivers.

Minnesota has criminalized first-offense drunken driving and made second and subsequent offenses felonies, Chinander said.

Drunken driving in Wisconsin isn’t criminalized until the second offense and doesn’t become a felony until the fifth offense.

“We’re too lax on it,” Chinander said. “We’re too lenient on it.”

Some of the problem comes down to how Wisconsin judges impose the penalties available to them for drunk drivers, Palmer said.

“Judges need to be held accountable when they don’t impose the penalties available to them,” he said.

Holtz can be reached at 715-833-9207, 800-236-7077 or dan.holtz@ecpc.com.

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