America is once again talking aboutÂ a mass shootingâ€”this one at a day spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a suburb west of Milwaukee, where a gunman shot seven people, killing three of them. Among the dead was the shooter’s estranged wife, who was the apparent target. Police are still sorting out the details, but according to news reports, the suspect, 45-year-old Radcliffe Franklin Haughton, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, had a history of domestic abuse and since October 8th had been the subject of a restraining order issued on behalf of his wife.
The rampage, which marks the 44th multiple shooting in the U.S. so far this year, comes barely two months after six people were shot to death inside a Sikh temple just 20 miles away from Brookfield, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and four months since James Holmes opened fire with an assault rifle inside a movie theater in Aurora, Coloradoâ€”killing 12.
Calling Sunday’s shooting a â€śsenseless act,â€ť Brookfield Mayor Steven V. Ponto told the New York Times, â€śTry as we might, these can’t be avoided.â€ť
As much as America hates to hear that, unfortunately, most of the time it is true. But there are certainly ways to make such incidents less likelyâ€”or barring that, less bloody. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk responseâ€”particularly from the leftâ€”is to focus on the implements of violence instead of the mechanisms that cause it and the means with which it might be stopped.
For better or worse, gun ownership and possession is legal in Americaâ€”protected by the highest law in the land. Whether you agree with that or not, we all must come to terms with the fact that we are an armed nation, and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future. In case you haven’t noticed, neither candidate for president has dedicated more than 50 words to talking about guns and gun violence, and Congress hasn’t passed a serious piece of gun control legislation in more than a decade.
Yet even if there were a serious push for stricter gun laws, they would only accomplish so much. Even sensible policies, such as limiting handgun purchases to one a month, would do little to stop a determined wingnut from carrying out his deadly plans. Likewise, bans on assault rifles or high-capacity magazinesâ€”like the one Jared Lee Loughner used to shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people in Arizona in 2011â€”may limit the scope of some shootings, but they certainly won’t end them. All it takes is a simple .38 revolver and six bullets to do serious damage.
But gun violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Attached to every gun used in a crime is a criminal; and if we’re serious about mitigating violence, that’s probably a good place to start looking for solutions. Under terms of his restraining order, Haughton was already prohibited from carrying a firearm; a court order was issued just days before the shooting requiring him to turn in any weapons he owned. Whether he complied hardly mattered: Haughton bought the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun he used in the attack two days after the issuance of the order, from a private seller who had no way of knowing he wasn’t supposed to have it (and under Wisconsin law, wasn’t required to ask).
So how can we ensure people who have had their right to possess a firearm revoked aren’t walking around armed? For starters, we should take a page from our neighbors to the north and require that all newly purchased handguns be registered and databased. Not only does Canada’s handgun registry help keep legally bought firearms out of the hands of criminals, but it also allows police to know before they enter a suspect’s house if there is a handgun inside.
A searchable database of all handguns purchased in the United Statesâ€”as well as the status of their owners’ right to possess oneâ€”would enable judges and law enforcement officials to determine in real time if the subject of that new restraining order is packing heat. It could also let gun dealers know if the customer standing across the counter is temporarily restricted from purchasing a firearm. Mechanisms should also be in place that require private gun sales to be conducted through a registered dealer, much the way the transfer of a car title in some states requires the presence of a notary public. We can expect the National Rifle Association to cry foul, but even gun rights advocatesâ€”like Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundationâ€”admit such a scheme would likely pass Constitutional muster.
Of course that would only help prevent violence perpetrated by people who shouldn’t have firearms to begin with. What about people like Holmes, the Aurora shooter who had no criminal record and bought his guns legally? Call me a pragmatist, but I say if we can’t keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, we should stop taking them away from law-abiding citizens.
While it has yet to be confirmed, there are some reports suggesting thatâ€”like the Century 16 multiplex in Auroraâ€”the Azana Day Spa may have been a â€śgun free zoneâ€ťâ€”meaning that firearms of any kind were prohibited from the premise. While it is a private establishment’s right to ban firearms, gun rights groups have, correctly, questioned the sensibility of a policy that relies on the honor system to enforce a rule that only law-abiding citizens would follow. Unless we’re prepared to go through a metal detector every time we get a pedicure or see a movie, I say drop the no-guns policy and hope that the next time someone opens fire in an establishment you’re patronizing there’s someone like this guy there to stop them.