The man who fatally shot four children and two adult relatives of his ex-wife near Houston this week had a history of domestic violence, according to a divorce decree, and was legally prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun.
Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, was charged with "simple assault and domestic violence in the presence of a child" in 2008 after he allegedly dragged his then-wife by her hair and hit her front of their children. According to their divorce decree, Haskill and his ex-wife had mutual restraining orders issued against each other in October 2013.
Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group started by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says the protective order against Haskell meets existing federal requirements for gun prohibition. While it's unclear how Haskell bought or acquired the gun he used to murder six people, the incident may reveal how loopholes in federal gun laws allow many known domestic abusers to evade the background check system, the group said Friday.
"This tragedy shines a light, once again, on the deadly relationship between guns and domestic violence and why gun laws matter," Erika Soto Lamb, communications director for Everytown, told HuffPost.
Federal law prohibits accused domestic abusers with protective orders issued against them from possessing or purchasing guns while the order remains active. But many known domestic abusers slip through the cracks because only licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks. Federally prohibited gun purchasers can still buy guns from unlicensed, private sellers, at gun shows or online, because those sellers are not required to conduct background checks.
Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have their own laws requiring background checks on all handgun transfers, and 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners in those states, according to an Everytown analysis of FBI data. While Haskell did not shoot his ex-wife, authorities say he was looking for her when he shot six members of her family -- her sister, brother-in-law and their four children.
Congress tried and failed last year to close the loopholes in the background check system. The Manchin-Toomey amendment, which lacked the votes to overcome a Senate filibuster in 2013, would have required background checks on all sales between private parties, with limited exceptions.
The National Rifle Association fought the Manchin-Toomey amendment and strongly opposes new laws to prevent domestic abusers from owning guns.
"Permanently losing a fundamental civil right for a misdemeanor conviction is virtually unheard of outside the Second Amendment context," the NRA wrote in a letter to lawmakers last month.
While several bills are pending in Congress that would strengthen gun restrictions on domestic abusers, Everytown said those laws would have more teeth if lawmakers were also willing to strengthen the background checks system.
"We won't give up on our fight to make it harder for domestic abusers to get and keep guns," Soto Lamb said. "Women's and children's lives are on the line."