Judge says challenges to changing domestic violence laws - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Judge says challenges to changing domestic violence laws

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County's former chief judge says calls for tightening rules on domestic restraining orders in the wake of a shooting rampage in Brookfield face challenges to achieving more victim safety.

Before 45-year-old Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his estranged wife and three others at a Brookfield spa Sunday, Haughton had been ordered to surrender firearms as part of a domestic abuse injunction. Milwaukee County authorities say there was no weapons surrender, but authorities also say Haughton acquired a handgun a day before the shooting from a private seller, where no background checks are involved.

Dane County reserve judge Sarah O'Brien says calls from several lawmakers for a requirement the surrender of firearms be verified within forty-eight hours in domestic abuse situations exclude a critical reality.

"The vast majority of cases, the petitioner doesn't know is the respondent owns firearms, or isn't able to identify them," O'Brien tells 27 News.

"To order someone to surrender firearms, without having any idea if they own firearms, or if they do, how many and what type, is an order that's almost impossible to enforce," says O'Brien.

Current state law includes no verification component in domestic abuse injunction cases.

Dane County Sheriff's spokesperson Elise Schaffer tells 27 News the current inventory of weapons surrendered as the result of domestic abuse injunctions include 167 handguns, and 353 rifles and other long guns.

Because Haughton purchased a handgun from a private seller, he avoided the waiting period and background check linked to any handgun purchase from a store or other federally-licensed seller. Because he was the subject of an injunction, Haughton would have been denied such a gun purchase, if the law was followed. 

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says California and three other states require background checks for all handgun purchases.

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) supports verification of firearms surrender in domestic injunction cases. But Taylor is hesitant about requiring background checks for private gun sales.

"Fathers have sold sons hunting rifles for years...I am more than willing to engage in conversation about keeping weapons out of the hands of violent abusers but we must acknowledge that issue will take long conversation and coalition building to achieve a workable product."

O'Brien says lawmakers should consider making the provision of information on domestic abuse services to petitioners in domestic restraining order cases mandatory.

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