This past Sunday, a Texas man went to the Houston home that his former domestic partner, Valerie Jackson, shared with her husband, Dwayne Jackson, and their six children who ranged in age from six to 13-years-old. He shot and killed all eight of them, including his own son. This is one of the worst mass shootings of children since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
The nature of this domestic violence-related shooting is staggering, but tragically it is not unique. Nor is the fact that the gunman should have never had a gun to begin with.
The gunman was a convicted felon, which, under federal law, prohibited him from buying and possessing firearms. But that didn’t stop him or countless other gunmen from exploiting the private-sale loophole left wide open by current law. This loophole enables criminals and other prohibited individuals to get their hands on guns by turning to unlicensed gun sales and bypassing criminal background checks—often through online marketplaces. And that’s what this gunman reportedly did just two weeks prior to the mass shooting.
That was also the case in another domestic-violence related shooting that occurred in Arizona last month. On July 24, 22-year-old Shayley Estes was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in the Phoenix-area home the estranged couple shared. They had a history of domestic violence and, prior to her murder, Shayley tried to get her ex-boyfriend to move out. Just a day before the shooting, Shayley’s killer purchased his gun from an unlicensed seller through a listing he found on Backpage.com. According to law enforcement, he, like the Texas shooter, was prohibited from buying and possessing firearms.
Shayley’s case certainly echoes the details surrounding Jitka Vessel’s 2011 murder. Jitka’s stalker—a man whom she had briefly dated years prior and who, because of his immigration status was prohibited from possessing firearms—bought a gun from an unlicensed, private seller he found through an Armslist.com listing at a casino in Washington State and then traveled to Chicago where he shot and killed her.
The list goes on.
- On December 22, 2014 in Ohio, Catherine Gessman was shot and injured by her ex-boyfriend who also shot and killed her 10-year-old daughter, Samantha. A week before the shooting, Samantha’s killer was arrested for assaulting Catherine who also filed a restraining order. The shooter was prohibited from possessing firearms due to a previous felony firearm conviction, but he managed to buy a gun without a background check through a private-sale listing he found online.
- On December 1, 2014 in West Virginia, 39-year-old Sharon Berkshire—along with her current boyfriend and two others—were shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, a convicted felon who was prohibited from possessing firearms. The gunman bought the firearm through a private-sale listing he found online.
- On May 23, 2014, in Washington State, 29-year-old Monique Williams was shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend. He had a previous domestic violence conviction that prohibited him from possessing firearms, so he turned to an online listing and purchased a .40-caliber handgun from an unlicensed seller in a parking lot. Washington State has since closed the private-sale loophole by enacting legislation that requires background checks on all private firearm sales.
- And, on October 21, 2012 in Wisconsin, Zina Daniel Haughton was shot and killed by her estranged husband at the spa where she worked. Her killer was subject to a restraining order, which prohibited him from possessing guns, so instead he connected with an unlicensed seller on Armslist.com to purchase a gun the day before he shot and killed Zina, two other women and injured others.
Valerie, Shayley, Samantha, Sharon, Monique, Zina and Jitka. These likely aren’t the only women who have been shot and killed by men who have turned to online gun sales to evade background checks. An untold number of dangerous people exploit this private-sale loophole annually, but research from Everytown found that Armslist.com, an online gun sale marketplace, had the potential to transfer more than 25,000 guns to criminals in 2013 alone.
When you combine domestic violence with easy, unfettered access to guns, the results are deadly. That’s why 18 states and the District of Columbia have closed this private-sale loophole on their own by enacting legislation that requires criminal background checks on private, unlicensed gun sales. Arizona, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin, for instance, are not included in that list. And Congress has yet to act.
In states that require background checks on all handgun sales, there are 46 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides of women. That’s why the single most important step elected leaders at the both the state and federal level can take to reduce gun violence and save lives is to support legislation that closes this private-sale loophole.