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Wisconsin governor says he would mull mandatory gun buybacks


Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that he would consider requiring assault weapon owners to sell such guns back to the government, sparking an instant backlash from Republican legislators.

The GOP’s top leaders said Evers finally revealed what they believe is Democrats’ true goal of disarming legal gun owners. They promised that he would never succeed as long as Republicans control the Legislature.

“With Governor Evers considering confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens, it shows just how radical Democrats have become,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has been pushing for mandatory assault rifle buybacks over the last few weeks. O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso was the site of a mass shooting in August that left 22 people dead.

Republicans have balked at the idea of forcing people to give up their assault weapons. Even some Democrats have resisted, saying O’Rourke’s stance could make it harder to negotiate on gun control legislation with President Donald Trump.

Wisconsin Democrats have been working to signal to supporters that they’re trying to stiffen gun control laws after a string of mass shootings around the country in August, including the El Paso attack, an attack in Dayton, Ohio, and an attack in Odessa, Texas. Assault-style rifles have been the weapons of choice in many mass shootings, including those three in August.

They introduced a universal background check bill last month and unveiled a red flag measure Thursday. That bill would allow a judge to seize people’s firearms for up to a year if they pose a threat to themselves or others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed similar red flag bills.

During a news conference in which the governor touted the red flag bill, he was asked if he supports mandatory buybacks of assault rifles. Evers tried to avoid answering directly, saying he’s focused on the red flag proposal and the universal background check bill. Asked if that meant he didn’t support buybacks, Evers responded: “I’d consider it.”

Even though some Democrats have refused to embrace the idea of mandatory buybacks, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tweeted that at least Evers was being honest about Democrats’ agenda. He followed that up with a statement saying mandatory buybacks would never happen as long as Republicans control the Statehouse.

“This morning’s candid comments from Governor Evers only further illustrate that without a strong, Republican-led Legislature, the idea of involuntary seizure of firearms could easily become a reality in Wisconsin,” Steineke said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes came to Evers’ defense, tweeting that Republicans are “aggressively misleading the public” about Evers’ agenda. He didn’t elaborate in the tweet.

Later Thursday, Evers declined to answer follow-up questions about buybacks as he left the Capitol rotunda.

Like Republicans across the country, the Wisconsin GOP has long insisted that restricting access to guns wouldn’t stop mass shootings and could infringe on Second Amendment rights. They maintain the answer is focusing on mental health.

Republicans who deviate from that stance could open themselves up to primary challengers. Fitzgerald is running to represent a conservative swath of southeastern Wisconsin in Congress. It’s unclear whether he will face any primary opponents but any moves that make him look like he supports any gun control measures could spur opponents to jump into the race against him.

Vos and Fitzgerald said in August they don’t support the background check bill and said in their joint statement Thursday that the red flag bill would violate due process and the constitutional right to bear arms. They noted Republicans passed a bill last year creating $100 million in school safety grants.

Vos voted for a bill in 2014 that allows physically or mentally disabled people at risk of being abused to petition a judge to force an abuser to surrender his or her guns. The measure cleared the Senate on a voice vote, which means there was no roll call that would show how Fitzgerald voted, but as majority leader he could have blocked the bill from reaching the floor.

Vos and Fitzgerald aides didn’t immediately respond to emails asking why they supported that bill but not the Democrats’ red flag proposal.

Thursday marked the anniversary of a shooting at a software company in the Madison suburb of Middleton, in which an employee wounded four of his co-workers before police stormed the building and killed him.

Angela Major 

A drop of rainwater rolls of the petal of a flower after a rainy morning Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, south of Janesville.

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Homeless man who refused to leave park may be held for psychiatric care


A homeless man who refused to leave the Monterey Bridge and then Monterey Park for weeks this spring and summer was found not competent to stand trial in Rock County Court on Thursday.

Whether Jeremiah J. Kemper, 34, would be held at a mental-health facility against his will or be released was the main question at a hearing before Judge Karl Hanson.

Social workers and police tried, starting in April, to persuade Kemper to stop camping on city property, and police believed Kemper had the resources to get himself an apartment, but he refused.

Angela Major 

Jeremiah Kemper, right, is restrained in handcuffs during a court appearance with his attorney Jason Sanders on Thursday.

Police issued citations but said they could not force him to leave.

Then on July 17, police arrested Kemper after an incident at the park. A man who was fishing with his family saw Kemper at his car, approached Kemper, and Kemper held a knife over his head and said he was an undercover officer, police said.

Kemper was held—it wasn’t clear whether at the jail or a mental-health facility—and charged with impersonating a police officer, disorderly conduct while armed and obstructing.

A psychiatrist’s report indicates Kemper was unlikely to regain competence in time to face the charges, and Hanson ruled the same at Thursday’s hearing.

Defense attorney Jason Sanders argued that his client, who had been found guilty of nothing, had been held since July on a cash bond and for nonpayment of tickets and should be released.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Dirks disagreed, saying the psychiatrist’s report says Kemper has struggled to live independently and has a long history of behaviors dangerous to himself and others and remains dangerous, Dirks said.

Angela Major 

Assistant District Attorney Scott Dirks, left, glances through papers during a hearing for Jeremiah Kemper on Thursday in Rock County Court.

Dirks requested Kemper be turned over to the state Department of Health Services and held for treatment.

Sanders noted the law is written with the most important question being whether to deprive a person of his liberty.

Dirks responded: “I understand Mr. Sanders’ concerns about Mr. Kemper being held, but I’m also concerned about his welfare and, frankly, the welfare of other people in the community if he goes back out on the street without anything that can govern his behavior.”

Hanson said there’s a possibility Kemper is a danger to himself and that it’s appropriate that Kemper continue to be held at a mental-health facility while matters are resolved.

Hanson said state statutes give Rock County until Tuesday to file a petition for involuntary commitment to a mental-health facility or to appoint a guardian. If the county fails to do so, Kemper must be released, Hanson said.

If the county files for involuntary commitment, a judge must rule on that question.

Hanson set a hearing for Friday, Sept. 27, to discuss the status of criminal charges and city citations that remain against Kemper.

Angela Major 

Judge Karl Hanson reads a statute during a hearing for Jeremiah Kemper on Thursday in Rock County Court.

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 20, 2019

Bonita “Bonnie” Flesch

Marvel Jean Rosa Hedum

Carol “Perky” Perkins

Thomas P. Sayre

Tina Sterken Shafer

Jean Ellyn Smith

Julian Lee Stinson Jr.

Anthony Wahl 

Evansville’s Josey Rinehart swings hard on the spike attempt past Whitewater’s Kacie Carollo during their game in Whitewater on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Janesville police suspect ‘swatting’ call Thursday


Police suspect someone made a false report Thursday morning, resulting in police surrounding a home in the 400 block of Harding Street at 8:05 a.m.

The practice of making such calls to harass someone is known as swatting, because SWAT teams are often called.

Officers were called for a report of a man and woman involved in a disturbance with a gun being seen, according to a police news release.

Officers tried several times to contact those inside the residence with no response. Officers then entered the residence and found two occupants inside, Sgt. Chad Pearson said.

No gun was found, and the occupants said there was no disturbance, according to the release.

The occupants said they have been harassed, and police said information gathered indicate they had responded to a swatting call.

One of the residents had received threatening text messages and phone calls from a former romantic partner, including a message indicating the former partner would call the police on one of the residents, Pearson said.

Swatting calls often are motivated by retaliation or made by people who want to stoke fear in a community, Pearson said.

The resident’s former partner is considered a suspect, but no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, he said.

Police believed the phone call was fake because the residents did not recognize the phone number, and nobody in the residence recognized the name the caller gave to 911 operators, Pearson said.

The call came from another city in the state, he said.

Callers sometimes use a process police dub “computer spoofing” to place a phone call from a computer and make it look like it’s from a different phone number, Pearson said.

It’s a similar strategy spam callers use to make their phone numbers look local, said Kathy Sukus, director of the Rock County 911 Communications Center.

Fake calls to police are serious offenses that create fear and tie up resources that could be used to help people in real danger, Pearson said.

About 10 officers were called to Harding Street, which “put a dent in resources,” he said. Some swatting calls result in SWAT and tactical teams being called in with heavy weaponry.

Sukus said operators have to take every 911 call seriously. Operators might suspect a call is fake, but they have to take every call at face value in case it is a real emergency, she said.

Swatting calls are fairly rare in Rock County. Pearson and Sukus could recall only a couple of swatting calls in the area and said it has been a couple of years since the last one happened.

Pearson recalled a 2014 incident in which police received a fake call reporting that a man had shot his mother and was holding his brother hostage at a duplex on Racine Street.

The 911 Communications Center receives prank calls every year, but not all result in a significant police presence. The calls are taken seriously, and the communications center works with police to identify prank callers, Sukus said.