Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed two bills into law Wednesday that relaxed gun restrictions in the state. One of them throws out Wisconsin's 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, and the other allows off-duty, out-of-state, and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms at public schools.
Walker, who is expected to soon announce his run for the presidency, signed the bills at a ceremony at the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office just a week after a mass shooting in South Carolina reignited a national debate about gun control.
Both bills passed with bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled state legislature before the shooting.
"If we had pulled back on this, I think it would have given people the erroneous opinion that what we signed into law today had anything to do with what happened in Charleston," Walker remarked at the signing ceremony.
"We're struck by the timing of the bill signing," Mike Browne, deputy director of liberal group One Wisconsin Now, told VICE News. "It seems incredibly insensitive and just a wrong step in terms of policy, given what happened in South Carolina and given the issues we have with gun violence across the state and specifically in Milwaukee."
The city has seen a recent increase in gun-related violence, and Milwaukee's Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett blasted the signing of the bills as hypocritical.
"If the proponents of this legislation and the governor of this state cared about reducing domestic violence, they would apply that instantaneous background check to all sales of guns," Barrett said. "But that's not what they're interested in doing. What they're interested in doing is currying favor with the NRA."
Walker has presided over a steady expansion of gun rights in Wisconsin, including allowing the concealed carry of weapons and enacting a "castle doctrine" law that protects homeowners who use deadly force against intruders on their property. The National Rifle Association has given him its highest rating.
"This important measure marks the end of an antiquated law that's served as nothing but a needless burden on law-abiding gun owners in the Badger state," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement that it was insensitive for Walker to sign the bills in the city with the most gun violence in Wisconsin.
"Wisconsin banned guns from schools and required a 48-hour cooling off period before buying a hand gun for good reason," she said. "It is incredibly insensitive for Walker to come to Milwaukee, the Wisconsin city with more gun violence than any other in the state, to sign bills relaxing gun laws. In the Governor's efforts to ride off into the presidential sunset, he continues to leave a trail of bad policies."
Proponents of getting rid of the waiting period have said the rule was inconvenient and that it will now allow people to better protect themselves.
"Eliminating the burdensome two-day wait provides another option for those who may find themselves in harmful situations, such as victims of domestic violence," said State Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), a co-author of the bill that eliminated the 48-hour period.
Supporters of allowing off-duty officers to carry firearms on school grounds have argued that it adds an additional layer of defense if a shooter attacks a school, but opponents voiced concerns that the law could scare students. Browne said that the law's principle of reducing violence by having more guns around schools is dubious.
"What's going on here is Gov. Walker, who's running for president, and Republicans are seeking support by pandering to the National Rifle Association," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.