Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How to Prevent Gun Rampages

No one is talking about the real legal changes that might have prevented the Brookfield spa shootings.

By - Oct 26th, 2012 09:35 am

In the wake of the violent rampage by Radcliffe Haughton last weekend, some state legislators plan to reintroduce a bill that would force domestic abusers, who are already required by state law to surrender any weapons, to prove they’ve complied with the law. Haughton was under a four-year restraining order for domestic abuse.

But such a law wouldn’t have helped in his case. Haughton may in fact have surrendered his weapon. But he just went out and bought another gun — not from a store, but from one of the many private gun sellers, who are completely unregulated.

The bipartisan coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, recently announced that the gun used by Haughton “was bought from an unlicensed private seller advertising on – a popular firearms vendor New York City investigated in a sting operation less than one year ago.”

It’s shocking just how easy it is to buy the most destructive weapons in America, as an investigation for the Today show dramatized. “Hundreds of thousands of guns are for sale, on hundreds of websites,” the reported noted. “We responded and set up meetings at popular shopping malls. We bought everything from a police-grade pistol to a semiautomatic assault rifle” to “a 50-caliber weapon so powerful it could take down a helicopter.”

A study by New York City found that “62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.”  The study found there is a “vast and largely unregulated market for firearms,” with online companies like, the largest of its kind, which did $1 billion in sales in 2009.

National studies show that 40 percent of guns are purchased on the secondary market, from unregulated sellers, and 80 percent of criminals get their guns from someone besides a retail clerk, notes Jeri Bonavia, executive director of WAVE — the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. She has asked kids who attend the Boys and Girls Club where the guns in the inner city come from, and they say from “the black van.” It’s a van selling guns, she says, that “drives around the neighborhood like an ice cream truck — but with none of the regulation required for an ice cream truck.”

A bill to regulate these sellers “is probably the single most important change we could make in Wisconsin,” Bonavia says. “This is so large a loophole you can hardly call it a loophole.”

WAVE has twice worked with Wisconsin legislators to pass a bill placing some restrictions on these sellers. These individuals, Bonavia notes, are prohibited from doing background checks. So the proposed law would require them to have a licensed gun dealer do the background check, in exchange for a transfer fee.

“It’s not like we need a new system,” she says. “It exists already. There are more licensed gun dealers in the state than there are grocery and convenience stores.” So it would be quite simple for the unlicensed gun seller to work through the licensed store.

One bill WAVE helped get introduced would have made it a felony for any private gun seller to sell a gun without doing this check; another made it a misdemeanor. Neither bill passed.

Bonavia says there are Republicans as well as Democrats who understand the need for the bill. “In private conversations with Republican legislators they agree with what we’re saying, but they won’t vote for it. They’re afraid they’ll get in trouble with their party.”

Bonavia’s group has done polling and found “the vast majority of gun owners and NRA members feel the loophole should be closed. The Republican Party’s leadership isn’t standing up for NRA members. They’re standing up for NRA lobbyists.”

Targeting Domestic Abusers

UWM professor Steve Brandl.

UWM professor Steve Brandl.

UW-Milwaukee Criminal Justice professor Steven Brandl offers a second approach that could help prevent murders by abusive spouses like Radcliffe Haughton. It’s a simple matter of getting law enforcement to enforce the current state law requiring anyone under a restraining order to surrender their guns.

To address that problem, he notes, the state Office of Justice Assistance assembled a working group to examine the issue, which resulted in a pilot program in four counties. In this program, sheriff’s departments followed up in every case where courts issued restraining orders on an individual charged with domestic abuse or child abuse, visiting the person’s home to make sure a weapon was surrendered. Brandl did a study of the program, which was released in March.

The program had results: in 15 percent of 212 cases of restraining orders, a firearm was surrendered; that’s 33 guns. And the costs were negligible. “It really didn’t take that much in resources,” says Brandl. It did add some time for the courts and sheriffs departments, he says, but it required no additional personnel.

Granted these were smaller counties. The two biggest were Outagamie (which includes Appleton) and Winnebago (Oshkosh). Milwaukee County would be a far bigger challenge. But the pilot program’s success offers a model well worth incorporating on a wider scale.

By contrast, bill now being proposed requiring individuals under restraining orders to prove they’ve surrendered their weapons would still require follow-up by law enforcement authorities. And the law already gives sheriffs the authority to do this. It only remains for counties to implement the current law, and follow the lead of that pilot program.

Short Takes

-There were some interesting comments in response to my column on the Journal Sentinel’s decision to end election endorsements. One issue raised is the endorsements in party primaries and smaller local elections, where voters often know very little about the issues; that could be a big loss.

-Meanwhile, Journal Sentinel editorial page editor David Haynes offers a thoughtful explanation of why the paper made this decision. 

Categories: Murphy's Law

7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: How to Prevent Gun Rampages”

  1. Joseph says:

    I’m a gun owner and am very much in favor of requiring background checks for all gun purchases. This can be done without banning or licensing guns. However, in order for this to gain enough support to become law the NICS background checks will have to be free and easily accessible. I foresee the law being written so that the only provision for submitting background checks is through a Class 1 Federal Firearms License holder (the type of license a gun store would have). If gun store owners make a habit of charging $30+ a transfer, as they do to receive guns shipped from out of state, then very few people will avail themselves of the background check and many sales will simply be done under the table.

    If the government made the NICS background check system available to local law enforcement (including the DNR) and WI residents could use their services for free then I doubt reasonable gun owners would see this as a burden. There would be much more support among gun owners and we would be doing more to keep those who are already prevented from having a gun from getting one. No system is perfect but there’s also no reason to keep honest gun sellers from knowing who they are selling to.

  2. Ed Werstein says:

    “more licensed gun dealers in the state than grocery and convenience stores”…..
    An amazing and very telling statistic.

  3. BT says:

    I’m also a gun owner, a strong supporter of the 2nd amendment and a strong supporter of concealed carry but I also think that this loophole definitely needs to be closed. As far as what Joseph mentioned about having free background checks be made available to people selling guns, that is too much for me, there has to be some charge for the service to cover the many costs involved in such a system, but I would definitely push to keep the charge reasonable so that sellers don’t go “underground” with their sales. I would make sure that we have whatever law in place to ensure that sellers do keep these transactions on the up and up. I know that as a law-abiding gun owner, if I was selling a gun to another private party, while I might be tempted to skip the check and save a few bucks, I definitely wouldn’t do it if it could get myself in trouble.

  4. RLEmery says:

    Well, then you idiots need to repeal both Haynes vs US 390, 85, 1968 and the constitutional amendment it affirms, the 5th amendment. the US Supreme court has ruled no person is legally liable to obey a law requiring them to violate their 5th amendment right of no self incrimination, making 85% of the existing 20,000 gun control laws requiring identification, not applicable to felons.

    Next, you will have to force the BATF to actually enforce the law, as since 1994, they have refused to prosecute more than 1% of the 1 mil plus felons who were caught attempting to buy from a licensed source to begin with, or any of the 830,000 others rejected, which includes the crazies. All while 95% of felons dont even attempt to buy from a licensed source to begin with. Much less how the BATF fails to prevent ANYONE using a fake identification to pass the background check, much less lie on their 4473 form.

    Of course then you will hvae to force your politicians to actually resource and fund the mental health reporting function to the NICS. As per NICS database in July 2012, there were only 1.7 mil records of people who had lost their 2A right by due process for mental illness. Sad how mental health experts agree that 50% of the current2.7 mil criminals in prison and 7% of US adults, are severely mentally ill.

    So what again will the idiotic background check do to reduce violence when the govt and politicians refuse to enforce the existing laws, the laws dont actually apply to felons to begin with as well, not one damn thing.

    Rocket scientists you defintiely are not!

  5. John says:

    As a online gun purchaser, I can tell you that the “gun show loophole” is a myth for online sales. I had to pass a background check for ever firearm purchase made online!

  6. You really think that the people in the undergound of criminals will pay any attention to nay new laws? No, just those of us that obe the law. More guns kn the hands of lawful citizens will help somewhat but the real truth is that we are one of the most lawful countries in the world, having about 16,000 murders per year compared to countries like SAfrica who has 45,000 murders and very restrictive gun laws.
    We have an estimated 3-500 million guns in this country. We have close to a million people take to the field every year, in this state, with very few repercussions.
    We do have a big drug trade with big repercussions fueled by a liberal belief that if they want to use drugs that they can, therefore killing thousands of people every year in the drug trade.
    Mexico has extremely restrictive gun laws, I have hunted down there, yet there are firefights between drug dealers, some supplied by the Obama administration with many weapons.
    The world is filied with guns and equipment to kill.
    Get those away, then the regular citizens would listen to laws restricting their rights.

  7. Patty Doherty says:

    “the vast majority of gun owners and NRA members feel the loophole should be closed. The Republican Party’s leadership isn’t standing up for NRA members. They’re standing up for NRA lobbyists.”
    We have to stop letting the fringe extremists dictate policy. I believe in the right to own a gun and I also support Conceal & Carry, but we need resonable and sane laws. Where is the common sense in requiring a licensed dealer to do a background check but not a private seller? Then what’s the point of the requirement? Unfortunatly, NRA lobbyists see any restriction or new regulation as a slippery slope and see it as a loss for “their side” instead of a win for all of us.

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