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Capitol Notebook: Bigger problems than Syrian refugees
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Wisconsin has larger problems than the possibility of 200 refugees from Syria being resettled in the Badger State. Heading the problem list are drunk driving and increased shootings.

Put bluntly, a Wisconsin citizen is far more likely to be killed or maimed by a drunk driver or a random shooting than from actions of refugees.

There are 15 new cases of gun violence in Milwaukee in an average week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There were more than 700 shootings in Milwaukee last year, the newspaper reported.

More than 200 cases are on the Milwaukee County court calendar, and six courts are involved in struggling with the crowded gun case dockets. Murders were up 35 percent over the previous year.

Crime and gun statistics hurt Milwaukee. Business and industry have struggled to recruit young professionals to their Milwaukee operations. Crime reports apparently play a role in the hesitancy to take jobs there.

On the other hand, Milwaukee’s cost-of-living compares favorably with other major urban areas and commuting times are good. But television has more stories about gun violence than news about the cost-of-living and driving times.

Gun violence is not just a Milwaukee problem. Other urban areas are experiencing it. Madison has had shootings at its two large shopping centers. Gangs, some with ties to Chicago, have been identified in the city.

The drug traffic in heroin has spread into the smaller cities and communities, police report. Unlike cocaine, heroin has had a significant impact on all races.

Any government move, outside of increased police personnel and action, is likely to fail. The gun lobby uses the Second Amendment to defend the status quo.

State Rep. Bob Gannon, a Republican whose district is on the edge of the Milwaukee metropolitan area, suggested that citizens attack the issue with their own guns.

With practice and careful aim, law-abiding citizens could help ‘’clean our society of these scum bags,” he offered.

Then there are the drunken driving statistics. In a five-year period Wisconsin law enforcement officials stopped 164,294 motorists suspected of drunk or impaired driving, according to the Department of Transportation.

But the trend is improving. In 2009 there were 40,466 such stops. By 2013 the number had declined to 26,630 motorists being stopped. The tavern industry has played a large role, helping finance “safe ride” programs to help get customers home.

Over a 10-year period the number of crashes, injuries and deaths linked to drunk driving has been cut in half. But the pain for the affected families remains high regardless of the trend of the statistics.

Tougher drunk driving laws are difficult to enact, perhaps because so many Wisconsin citizens drink alcoholic beverages. Some would attribute that to families that came from Germany and Norway.

But tough drunk driving laws require more spending on the part of the Legislature. Jail time and required court appearances of the drivers also increases the cost of government.

Being against something – such as new refugee families – doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. Opponents paint it with anti-terrorism hues.

President Obama has proposed accepting 10,000 refugees nationally. If relocated proportionally, Wisconsin would receive 200 persons. Or 50 families of four.

Over the years in Wisconsin, the real work of helping refugees, regardless of their race or religion, has fallen to Lutheran and Catholic social service agencies.

Pommer, known as the “dean” of State Capitol correspondents, has covered government action in Madison for 36 years, including the actions of nine governors. The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers.