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Prompted by the fatal shooting rampage at a suburban Milwaukee spa, two local lawmakers are pushing legislation to tighten enforcement of gun rules in domestic violence cases.But it’s unlikely their proposed changes would have prevented 45-year-old Radcliffe Haughton from buying a handgun just two days after his estranged wife obtained a restraining order against him. He used the gun to shoot seven women at the spa, killing his wife and two others, before fatally shooting himself.
Still, Sen. Lena Taylor said the shooting highlights the need for better enforcement of laws that require restraining order recipients to surrender their weapons.
“Across Wisconsin there are inconsistent standards, or sometimes none at all, for the collection of weapons owned by domestic abusers,” the Milwaukee Democrat said Monday as she and Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber pushed for the bill.
Haughton opened fire at the Azana Day Spa around 11 a.m. Sunday, just three days after his estranged wife, Zina, obtained a four-year restraining order. He was ordered to turn over all of his firearms to a county sheriff, though it’s unclear whether he turned in any weapons.
But he bought the .40-calibre semiautomatic handgun used in the attack from a private owner on Saturday, according to police in Brown Deer, the Milwaukee suburb where Haughton lived. The seller did nothing illegal, however, because Wisconsin law only requires background checks and a 48-hour waiting period from gun dealers, not from private individuals.
Three of the victims remained hospitalized late Monday.
Taylor’s legislation calls for requiring individuals who are subject to a restraining order to surrender their firearms within 48 hours or face arrest. The bill failed to pass in 2010, after the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups fought it.
Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition against Domestic Violence, supports Taylor’s bill but admits it may not have done anything to stop Haughton.
“We don’t know what would have prevented this situation,” he said.
Jeff Nass, president of Wisconsin Force, an NRA-chartered state association, said such a law would have done nothing to prevent Haughton’s shooting spree.
“It’s just one of those things that make some people feel better,” Nass said. “It’s just like a restraining order. We know how effective those are. The tragedy is, it’s hard to understand how people think and what deranged people do.”
Court records show that Haughton had terrorized his wife for years, including threatening to throw acid on her face, dousing her car with tomato juice and slashing her vehicle’s tires.
The former car salesman was charged with disorderly conduct last year after police responding to a 911 call saw him point what appeared to be a gun at his wife from a window at their home. Officers took cover, and a 90-minute standoff ensued. It ended peacefully.
But police said Monday they were never able to confirm a gun was involved because Zina Haughton wouldn’t allow them into the couple’s home. The charge against Radcliffe Haughton was later dropped when a police officer failed to appear in court.
Police said the officer asked the prosecutor to reschedule but the prosecutor refused. A call to the prosecutor Monday evening seeking comment rang unanswered.
According to court records, Zina Haughton had told police her husband didn’t own any guns. But she was concerned enough about her safety that she got a police escort when she went to the house earlier this month to pick up a few items.
When she drove to work after picking up the items, her husband was waiting in a car outside the spa. He leaned out of the vehicle and, in front of her and two co-workers, slashed her vehicle’s tires, according to court documents. He was later arrested.
In her request for a restraining order, filed in that case on Oct. 8, Zina Haughton wrote that her husband had threatened to kill her if she ever left him. He also at various times had threatened to throw acid on her face and burn her and her family with gas, she claimed.
“His threats terrorize my every waking moment,” Zina Haughton wrote.
Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, and researchers Lynn Dombek and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.