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Two Loopholes That Give Wisconsin Domestic Abusers Easy Access to Guns

Last week, the Appleton Post-Crescent published a deeply reported story exploring how a man who had been charged with two felonies and prohibited from possessing a gun was able to obtain a gun and fatally shoot his wife, Sara Schmidt, near Appleton in January.

The killing, after which the shooter took his own life, highlights the risks abusers pose to their victims across the state and within the Appleton region. “Sara is believed to be one of four women in the past 10 months in Appleton and neighboring communities to have been killed by the men they were with,” the article reports – and all four were killed with guns.

In Schmidt’s case, her husband had been charged days before the shooting with first-degree domestic sexual assault and domestic kidnapping, charges that carried a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison. Among other bond conditions, the judge in the assault and kidnapping case prohibited Schmidt’s husband from possessing guns.

But just three days after posting bond, Schmidt’s husband bought a handgun in a parking lot from a 19-year-old he had met through a website that facilitates gun sales, according to the Post-Crescent. In many states, the buyer in this type of transaction would have been required to pass a criminal background check. Because the sale happened in Wisconsin, he was not.

The day after buying the gun, the shooter killed Sara Schmidt and them himself, according to the Post-Crescent.

For Wisconsin lawmakers looking to better protect women and families by keeping guns out of the hands of abusers, two legal loopholes deserve particular scrutiny:

The background check loophole:

Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct criminal background checks on gun sales, but there is no federal background check requirement for unlicensed sales, including sales initiated online and sales made at gun shows. While 20 states have passed background check requirements to address this loophole, Wisconsin has not.

Easy access to guns for abusers:

Federal law prohibits criminals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from having guns, but without a matching state-level law, Wisconsin law enforcement cannot take meaningful action to protect the communities they serve. Most states have laws that prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from having guns. Wisconsin does not.

For more information about guns and domestic violence, and how other states have taken action in recent years to protect women and families by closing dangerous loopholes in their gun laws, please don’t hesitate to reach out.