Democrats seek to fix ‘loophole’ in Wisconsin’s child gun laws following Rittenhouse acquittal

MADISON, Wis. — Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill that would close what they call a loophole in Wisconsin’s gun laws for minors.

Currently, state law bans children under 18 from possessing guns except for limited supervised activities. The law includes an exemption for guns with barrel lengths of 16 inches or longer, designed to allow minors to participate in things like hunting and target practice.

The move comes a week and a half after a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts in the shooting deaths of two men and wounding of a third man in Kenosha during unrest last summer.

Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, carried a semiautomatic rifle — a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 with a gun barrel length of 16 inches — during the unrest.

His defense team argued the misdemeanor charge of illegal gun possession by a minor was invalid. Judge Bruce Schroeder ultimately agreed with the argument and ruled to drop the charge shortly before closing statements in his jury trial, where Rittenhouse was ultimately found not guilty of murder and recklessly endangering safety charges.

That ruling set a dangerous precedent, Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said, and it was the motivation to work with nonpartisan state drafting attorneys to introduce a legal fix to the current statutes.

“Currently, in the way our laws are written, it could be that a very young child — a 3-year-old — could be walking around with an AR in our communities, and I don’t think that any of us think that is safe or should be happening,” Agard said.

The bill wouldn’t make any changes to children’s abilities to hunt, target practice, and participate in other adult-supervised gun activities. Instead, it would add clarifying language where the law would only apply when a minor is actually engaged in one of those activities.

Introduced this week by Agard and several other Democratic lawmakers, the bill didn’t include Republican sponsors, and spokespeople for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Leader Devin Lemahieu (R-Oostburg) didn’t respond to an email asking whether they would support the bill.

Still, Agard said she hopes that as it circulates in the legislature this week, it will pick up some bipartisan support.

“I think it was frankly an oversight, something folks didn’t realize would or could happen,” Agard said in an interview. “I see this more as a technical fix, and frankly much of the work that we do in the Capitol is updating our statutes so they’re in line with the realities that we’re experiencing in our communities.”