The bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns today announced that the gun used to kill three people and injure at least four more at a spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin was bought from an unlicensed private seller advertising on Armslist.com – a popular firearms vendor New York City investigated in a sting operation less than one year ago.
Radcliffe Haughton, the shooter, was the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, and was therefore barred under federal law from purchasing or possessing a firearm. But because private sellers are not required to conduct background checks – unlike licensed firearms dealers – he completed his purchase and used the weapon to murder his estranged wife and two others.
The City of New York investigated Armslist.com in a first-of-its-kind investigation and documented its findings, along with undercover video of illegal gun purchases, in “Point, Click Fire: An Undercover Investigation of Illegal Online Gun Sales.” The investigation uncovered a vast, unregulated online market for illegal guns in which 62 percent of online sellers, including 54 percent of those on Armslist.com, agreed to sell guns to investigators posing as buyers who claimed they could not pass a background check – a felony under federal law.
In the last 100 days, there were more than 30,000 unique gun listings on Armslist.com alone. Twenty-six thousand of those ads were listed by private sellers – fully 86 percent.
“Federal law prohibited this man from buying a gun, but loopholes in the law make buying a gun without a background check as easy as turning on a computer,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Now, how can any elected official say that the broken background check system works? How can they look in the eyes of the families – the victims’ families – and tell them this system doesn’t need to be fixed? They can’t.”
"Our gun laws give people like Radcliffe Haughton two choices: buy a gun from a dealer and undergo a background check or buy a gun from a private seller, no background check and no questions asked,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “These loopholes have devastating consequences for the many families in our communities affected by gun violence. The solution is simple, but we must have a plan from leadership in Washington."
Licensed gun dealers are required to conduct criminal background checks on prospective buyers, but because of a gap in the law, so-called “private sellers” do not need to. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of annual U.S. gun sales are private sales.
A growing share of firearms sales takes place over the Internet – often conducted by private sellers, without background checks, in largely anonymous and undocumented transactions.
The findings of the New York City investigation prompted Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 725 mayors working to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, to launch “Fix Gun Checks: Delete Online Outlaws” to call on websites to crack down on illegal gun sales and adopt common sense policies like requiring sellers to register with the site before listing guns for sale, requiring buyers to register before contacting sellers and providing a simple mechanism for users to flag suspicious behavior.
Polls by GOP pollster Frank Luntz for Mayors Against Illegal Guns found overwhelming public support for universal background checks including 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members. The survey also found that 57 percent of NRA members mistakenly believe that all gun sales are subject to background checks.
On October 21st, Haughton shot and killed four people including his estranged wife and himself, and injured four others when he opened fire at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin where his estranged wife worked.
Haughton had a history of domestic abuse and his wife was granted a restraining order against him last Thursday, October 18th after Haughton slashed the tires of her car. In court Zina Haughton, the shooter’s estranged wife, said, “He threatened to throw acid in my face, burn me and my family with gas. His threats terrorize my every waking moment.” The restraining order barred him under federal law from purchasing or possessing firearms.