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Paul Soglin: Close loophole that caters to criminals

Paul Soglin: Close loophole that caters to criminals


Simple and common sense fixes to Wisconsin’s gun laws could have prevented the recent tragic Brookfield shootings.

Federal law barred the shooter, Radcliffe Haughton, from buying or possessing a firearm after his wife obtained a domestic violence restraining order against him.

If Haughton had gone to any one of the state’s many licensed gun stores, which are required to run background checks on gun purchasers, he would have failed the check and walked out of the store empty-handed.

Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, criminals such as Radcliffe Haughton know that private dealers can sell guns with no paperwork and no questions asked. Thanks to this private sale loophole, Haughton had no problem buying a .40-caliber handgun.

Haughton went online to a website called, where he connected with a private, unlicensed seller. The next day, Haughton went on the tragic shooting rampage that claimed three innocent lives.

This loophole is not just lethal, it is completely illogical. It’s akin to having optional security at the airport — one line for those who are willing to be screened, another for those who are not.

We would never let people avoid metal detectors and bag checks before boarding a plane, so why do we allow gun buyers to choose whether or not they undergo something as basic as a background check?

There are 34 Americans killed with guns every single day. It’s a bone-chilling number, to be sure, and it will take more than just legislating to end this violence. But one thing is certain: We owe it to Wisconsin residents to pass sensible laws that we know will save lives.

Around the country, the gun background check system has blocked more than 1 million illegal transactions over the past 15 years. These are convicted felons, fugitives and domestic abusers who tried — and thankfully failed — to get their hands on a gun.

A 2012 survey by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales. Moreover, a 2011 statewide poll found that almost 85 percent of likely Wisconsin voters support such a measure.

Yet here in Wisconsin, we still provide Radcliffe Haughton and others with the escape hatch of private gun sales without a background check — a loophole that caters to criminals, and carries almost no support from responsible gun owners.

It’s estimated that private sales comprise 40 percent of all U.S. gun sales. It’s high time to recognize the urgency of the situation at hand. Three more Wisconsinites are dead, and we can no longer afford to remain complacent.

Soglin is mayor of Madison and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national bipartisan coalition of more than 725 mayors.

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