A shameful falsehood resides at the heart of the gun de-control bill that Governor Scott Walker signed on Wednesday even as the nation still reeled from the reality of the nine innocents shot to death in a Charleston church.
The bill to which Walker affixed his unhesitating signature ended the long established 48-hour waiting period before acquiring a handgun in Wisconsin.
“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 said at the ceremonial singing of that measure along with one allowing off-duty and retired cops to carry concealed weapons in public schools.
What the official ending of the 48-hour “cooling off” rule did have something to do with was a decades-old fiction concerning another gun horror, this the 1991 killings of a Wisconsin woman named Bonnie Elmasri and her two children.
In the aftermath of that triple homicide, pro-gun advocate James Fendry offered a remarkable tale. Fendry—who reportedly founded his Wisconsin Pro-Gun Movement in 1981 at the urging of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action—announced that a woman named Bonnie had called him a day or two before the tragedy, saying she was desperate to get a gun to protect herself from her estranged and abusive husband.
Fendry reported he had explained to the woman that Wisconsin had a waiting period. He said he assumed this was the same Bonnie who was shot to death along with her two children by her husband less than the mandatory 48 hours later.
The local police were forthrightly dubious that Bonnie Elmasri had ever contacted Fendry or sought to obtain a gun.
Her brother was initially silent but felt compelled to denounce the tale as a fabrication after the NRA relayed it to participants in the debate in the House of Representatives on the Brady Bill in May of that year.
“My sister would never buy a weapon,” the brother, Gary Greenberg, told the Milwaukee Journal at the time. “Never. She would not know what to do with a gun if she had one in her hand. She did not go to a gun shop. I was very close to her and so were my parents, and we can account for almost every minute of the 48 hours.”
Of Fendry, the brother said, “I believe he is either making it up entirely or that somebody named Bonnie called him but that was not my sister.”
The brother’s words came immediately after Representative Barbara Vucanovich (R-NV) and Rep. Richard Schulze (R-PA) had dutifully repeated the NRA-supplied yarn to challenge the seven-day waiting period originally proposed by the legislation.
Vucanovich rose on the House floor and appealed to her colleagues, “Let’s take a look at what the Brady Bill means to women, more often than not the victims of violent crimes.”
She continued: “Look at the case of Bonnie Elmasri, of Wisconsin, whose husband repeatedly threatened to kill her. She secured a restraining order. But because of the severity of her husband’s threats, Bonnie didn’t feel this was enough. She tried to purchase a firearm for self-defense, but was told there was a two-day waiting period. The next day, Bonnie and her two sons, aged 17 and 3, were murdered by her husband.”
The congresswoman concluded, “In just this one instance, a two-day waiting period cost three innocent citizens their lives, two of them children. Who knows how many more lives a full seven-day waiting period would cost?”
When his turn came, Schulze rose and said, “There are many reasons for my opposition to the Brady Bill. But one of the most compelling reasons is the saving of innocent lives.”
He went on, “The proponents of the Brady Bill continue to argue that waiting periods such as the Brady Bill will save lives. But waiting periods can cost lives as well, as witnessed by the tragic death this past March 5 of Bonnie Elmasri of Wauwatosa, WI.”
He added, “Bonnie sought to buy a handgun to protect herself from her estranged husband. She applied to purchase a handgun but had to wait 48 hours before picking it up.”
He concluded, “Unfortunately, Bonnie was never able to pick up her handgun, because she was murdered the very next day by an abusive husband who the police were well aware of.”
Upon being informed of the brother’s reaction, Vucanovich and Schulze offered no apology. Vucanovich excused herself by saying simply that she got the story from the NRA.
The Brady Bill passed, but without a waiting period beyond an instant background check.
Wisconsin’s 48-hour requirement was still in effect in late February of this year, when state Senator Van Wanggaard introduced a bill to nix it. Wanggaard had championed the state’s concealed-carry bill and “Stand Your Ground” law before being bounced from office in the 2012 recall election.
Wanggaard successfully ran for his old seat last fall, having been given an A rating by the NRA for his “proven record of standing up for Second Amendment rights.” Wanggaard also received a rousing endorsement from none other than Fendry.
“A tireless leader protecting and advancing the rights of hunters and other law-abiding gun owners,” Fendry said of the state senator.
In his second month back in office, Wanggaard became the latest person to contend that the 48-hour provision prevented the innocent from defending themselves. He cited a familiar tale.
“We had that happen back in the early ’90s—one case that I’m familiar with, a gal that was physically beaten by her husband,” Wanggaard said. “She had a restraining order. She went to get a handgun. She had 48 hours’ waiting period to get that handgun for self-protection. And in that 48 hours, she and her two kids were killed by her husband.”
He then declared, “So what about the victims’ rights here?”
Upon learning of the renewed effort to use this twisted tale in violation of the victims’ right to the truth, Bonnie Elmasri’s brother had much the same reaction he had when it was used back in 1991.
“That is a made-up story,” Greenberg told The Daily Beast. “That is a total fabrication.”
He added, “I am 99.9999 percent sure that they just made that up.”
Greenberg allowed that his sister had indeed grown afraid of her husband, Mohsen Elmasri, after he turned abusive, slapping her and slamming her head against the stairs. But the brother does not believe that she would have even thought of obtaining a gun or that she would have known of Fendry or how to contact him, much less seek his help in arming herself.
“She never had any experience of guns,” Greenberg said. “She never held a gun. We are not gun people.”
Greenberg reported that his sister had not been too terrified of her husband to admit him into her home that day. A man who had never been known to possess anything more deadly than a BB gun then produced a pistol. He took her and their 17-year-old son, Michael, into the basement.
After shooting the two, the husband had headed upstairs. He shot the 3-year-old, Adam, as the child slept. The husband had finally turned the gun on himself.
At the funeral for the mother and her two sons, Rabbi Bernard Reichman described the tragedy in terms that also apply to the church murders in Charleston and so many other gun killings.
“It is as if the sun has gone out in the middle of the day,” he said.
Fendry and the NRA and its minions have never sought to further their cause by pointing out that the 48-hour waiting period had not kept the husband from obtaining a handgun. That also would have raised the question of how a man with known mental health and domestic violence issues came to arm himself legally.
When the brother now Googles the name “Bonnie Elmasri,” he sees that pro-gun folks have accepted the manifestly false version of the tragedy as gospel truth, calling his sister “the first Brady victim” and making such declarations as “Gun Control Kills.”
“She’s become like the poster child for this, which is insane,” Greenberg said on Thursday.
Fendry did not respond to a message left at his home. The brother continues to say he believes that even if a woman named Bonnie did call Fendry, it could not possibly have been Bonnie Elmasri and the resulting tale embraced by the pro-gun world is a fiction.
When Wanggaard’s office was informed that Bonnie Elmasri’s brother had emphatically denounced the account as false, a spokesman said the senator had gotten it “from the Congressional Record”—which in this instance is to say from the NRA and Fendry. The senator had not bothered to verify its authenticity.
“That’s why he didn’t use any names,” the spokesman said, seeming to suggest implicitly that his boss had not been completely convinced the tale was true in every regard.
The bill passed and landed before Walker, who had survived the 2012 recall and was even planning a presidential bid. He may very well not be aware of the falsehood at the heart of the measure. The fact remains that he signed into law a gun de-control measure with that shameful falsehood at its core.
Walker did it even as the families down in Charleston were preparing to bury their dead, even as most of us were despairing over the never ending gun violence.
He tops Wanggaard with his own rating by the NRA: