U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner hosted a town hall meeting Sunday bringing nearly 80 residents and interested individuals to the confines of Watertown Municipal Building. Along with Sensenbrenner, who represents the 5th Congressional District, was with state Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, for the hour-and-a-half meeting.
Before the first Watertown resident spoke, Sensenbrenner told the crowd in 2017 he held 115 public meetings with some being contentious. He adjourned a recent meeting in Wauwatosa after he gave seven warnings because of disorderly behavior. On Sunday, the crowd were two shy of being adjourned.
When questioned on what he and his colleagues can do to stem gun violence in the United States, Sensenbrenner said there has been a law on the books for more than 20 years that makes it illegal to carry a firearm within any school in the country.
"That law was not enforced," he said. "Congress does not enforce laws. The executive branch enforces laws."
Sensenbrenner said a lot of information was known about the individual in Parkland, Florida before the school tragedy happened Feb. 14.
"The FBI ignored a tip that came in that the shooter had a mental problem and was talking about shooting up schools. The security officer didn't go into the school when the shooting started. There were three sheriff's deputies outside of the school that didn't go into the school to save lives," Sensenbrenner said. "There has to be a lot of introspection on that as well."
He said in 1993-94 he was the principle Republican author of the Brady Bill now the Brady Handgun Prevention Act.
Sensenbrenner said the effort led to the 1998 launch of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System under the control of the FBI, now commonly known as NICS.
Under the system, firearm dealers cross-reference the information of prospective buyers with NICS data to ensure that the purchaser is not on the list of convicted felons, drug users, illegal aliens or those convicted of domestic violence.
"But as I have stated many times, NICS is only as strong as the information entered into it," Sensenbrenner said. "If federal agencies or other law enforcement bodies fail to provide NICS with the necessary information, dangerous individuals will slip through the cracks and purchase firearms."
He said because of the "Brady Bill" 700,000 guns were stopped from being sold to dangerous individuals.
"There are a lot of things that we can legislate until we are blue in the face but are really not effective in stopping mass murders as we have seen in Parkland,Florida and beforehand," Sensenbrenner said.
He said he supports getting rid of bump stocks which make semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons or machine guns.
"We need to start thinking of how people misuse guns and keeping the guns from them," he said. "One of the keys to doing this is to have a better screening on mental health issues because practically everyone that has been involved in a mass shooting has demonstrated some type of mental health issue before the mass shooting takes place. We have to be proactive and vigorously enforcing the laws already on the books."
Sensenbrenner said if the FBI and local law enforcement had done their jobs in Florida those kids would be alive today.
Another person asked why the two sides in government can't get along?
Sensenbrenner and Jagler both agreed that doesn't grab the headlines as two factions arguing.
"We do get along on an awful lot of things, but you never hear about it because the media increases their ratings, they sell more newspapers by talking about conflict and controversy and real or perceived conduct," Sensenbrenner said. "It's very frustrating for us that do perform a lot of work across the aisle."
He said he sends out a lot of press releases but it doesn't get the print or airtime because it doesn't have the conflict or controversy to it.
Jagler said the same.
"Ninety three percent of the bills signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker this session had bipartisan votes," Jagler said. "It is very frustrating to us who work on the other side of the aisle. I had a bill pertaining to mental health issues when a doctor or an emergency physician has a problem with a person in crisis," Jagler said. "They believe this person may harm themselves or may go out and shoot somebody or do a mass shooting. There was a reluctance for doctors to contact law enforcement because of privacy concerns. I worked very hard with Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, and got this bill passed that doctors are applauding and nobody knows about it because it's not sexy. It's frustrating to hear there is not a lot of bipartisanship in Madison when there is."
Retired educator Jan Detrie said she has a 14-year-old grandson in school and asked why the shooter in Parkland, Florida, was able to purchase the AR-15 he used during the school shooting. Detrie also reminded Sensenbrenner he accepted donations from the National Rifle Association.
"Are you going to continue to take donations from the NRA?" Detrie said.
Sensenbrenner said the NRA is free to contribute or not to elected officials.
"We have to be much more sensitive to those who exhibit mental health problems before they end up causing a tragedy," he said. "This kid did that on a number of occasions and the FBI did nothing."
Sensenbrenner said there was a ban on semiautomatic weapons during President Bill Cinton's time in office.
"After the ban expired there was no increase in the number of crimes that were committed with semiautomatic weapons. It was something that was cosmetic. It did not get to the root cause of the problem." he said.
Sensenbrenner said he takes an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution at the beginning of every term, which includes the Second Amendment.
"Each of us in the United States has a right to keep or bear arms if we wish to keep or bear arms," he said.