Wisconsin Mass Shooter Exploited Background Check Loophole That NRA Says Isn't A Problem

The National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, recently downplayed the public safety threat posed by a loophole in federal law that allows domestic abusers and other prohibited persons to purchase firearms without undergoing a background check. But the alleged perpetrator in an October 21 shooting at a Brookfield, Wisconsin spa that left three dead and four wounded reportedly abused that same loophole to obtain his firearm. 

Today the Associated Press reported that Radcliffe Haughton purchased a handgun without a background check from a private seller, and obtained the weapon two days after becoming subject to a restraining order that required him to turn any firearms he owned into police.

On August 29, Cam Edwards, the host of Cam & Company on NRA News, obfuscated the loophole during a segment in which he expressed opposition to a proposal by Mayors Against Illegal Guns to require background checks on nearly all gun sales.

CAM EDWARDS: As you know, the gun laws in this country are the same for private citizens at gun shows or at their home. The laws in the country are the same for federally licensed firearms retailers whether they are at their brick-and-mortar store or whether they are manning a table at a gun show. The laws don't change based on the location.

Edwards' focus on where guns are sold is a distraction from the real issue: the lax regulation of private gun sales creates a venue for prohibited persons, like Haughton, to obtain firearms.

In 2010, the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied against Wisconsin legislation that would have required individuals subject to a restraining order to turn in their weapons within 48 hours or face arrest. It is unknown at this time if law enforcement made any effort to determine whether Haughton owned any weapons when the restraining order was granted. In any case, because Haughton was subject to a restraining order, he was prohibited under federal law from purchasing a firearm at the time that he bought the murder weapon from a private seller.   

Federal law requires that individuals “engaged in the business of selling firearms” obtain a license and conduct background checks on their customers. But a vague definition about what it means to be “engaged in the business” allows the private sales market  -- where Haughton reportedly obtained his weapon -- to flourish. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales are conducted by private sellers without a background check. 

The NRA opposes mandatory background checks on gun purchases and has repeatedly denied that allowing private sales without a background check poses a danger to the public. Even after an al Qaeda spokesman released a video in 2011 urging would-be terrorists to take advantage of widespread private sales at gun shows, the NRA claimed that requiring background checks at gun shows would have no effect on crime.

The NRA's general membership seems to disagree; a 2009 poll conducted by Republican Frank Luntz found that 69 percent of members favored requiring all purchasers at gun shows to undergo a background check. 

Investigations at gun shows have revealed that many private sellers, when approached by someone who indicates that they are prohibited from possessing a firearm, will still complete the sale. A 2009 undercover investigation by the City of New York found that 19 of 30 private sellers approached at a gun show were willing to sell to an individual who stated that he could probably not pass a background check.

Sunday's shooting was the second mass shooting in the Milwaukee suburbs in recent months. On August 5, a white supremacist fatally shot six people and wounded three at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooter committed suicide after being wounded by police. On August 27, NRA News producer Cameron Gray interviewed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and facetiously asked whether there had been any “crazy shootouts” since Wisconsin loosened its gun laws in July 2011. Gov. Walker responded that “none of the bad things we heard talked about” happened.