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Study: Tighter Gun Laws on Domestic Abusers Could Deter Future Tragedies

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sunday’s mass shooting at a Brookfield salon has prompted some Wisconsin legislators to call for stricter gun laws. Police say Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his estranged wife Zina Haughton and two of her co-workers at the Azana Salon, then turned the gun on himself. As WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson reports, a national study released today supports several proposals suggested here.

The national report comes from Johns Hopkins University, 100 days after a gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Colorado, killing or wounding dozens. The report tallied the number of people across the country killed by guns in 2010 – more than 31,000. Author, Dr. Daniel Webster, also outlined each state’s gun laws. He says in many states, including Wisconsin, private gun sellers do not have to verify that the person buying the firearm is legally allowed to own one.

“Individuals can go to gun shows, any kind of venue, now there are websites available, of course the shootings at the salon recently exploited the private sale loophole. He was able to buy a gun from a private seller because that private seller didn’t have to check whether he was prohibited or not,” Webster says.

One of the report’s recommendations for reducing gun violence, is that states close what he calls the private sale loophole. State Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee announced this week that he intends to introduce a bill in January. It would particularly focus on people such as Sunday’s gunman, who police say had threatened and harmed his wife previously.

“We clearly need to do more to crack down on people we know are domestic abusers, we know have guns and we know are using those guns to commit acts of domestic abuse,” Richards says.

Police were called to the Haughtons’ home in Brown Deer in 2011. Officers reported seeing the 45-year-old man point what appeared to be a rifle at his wife. He refused to surrender the object, and police eventually left the scene. Richards says another bill he and Democratic colleagues plan to introduce would address those types of calls.

“If the police come upon a domestic abuse scene and the abuser is using a gun, they can take away those guns. We can also make sure that police and prosecutors know if a domestic abuser is carrying a gun under the concealed weapons law. All those steps would help enhance the safety of people suffering under domestic abuse,” Richards says.

Restraining orders can instruct suspects to surrender their weapons, but police do not confiscate them. Despite all best intentions, Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend questions whether new laws can prevent future tragedies.

“Like everything it takes awhile to get the person’s gun. You can lie about having a gun. Some of these legislators have been long opponents of guns of any nature and I think they’re using this tragedy as a pretext to pass more anti gun legislation,” Grothman says.

Grothman voted in favor of Wisconsin’s concealed carry law last year. While he acknowledges that gun ownership in the U.S. has increased substantially during the past two decades, he notes that violent crime has declined during the past five years.

The Johns Hopkins study does not find a correlation. Author Daniel Webster says concealed carry laws do not reduce violent crime, but what could reduce gun violence is prohibiting high risk groups such as domestic abusers from having guns.