Ronald Lee Haskell was legally permitted to carry a firearm when he allegedly gunned down six of his ex-wife’s relatives – including four children – despite previous domestic violence charges and restraining orders filed against him.
It’s not yet clear whether Haskell legally obtained the weapon he allegedly used to shoot Stephen and Katie Stay, his former sister-in-law, and their five children.
But an analysis by Mother Jones found Haskell would likely have been permitted to buy a gun under existing law, thanks to legal loopholes opened and maintained by gun-rights advocates.
The analysis also found that most domestic-violence murder victims died from gunshot wounds, and more women are gunned down in those states with the fewest restrictions on gun ownership by domestic-violence offenders.
The lone survivor of last week’s massacre – the Stays’ 15-year-old daughter – said Haskell disguised himself as a FedEx driver to get into the family’s home and demand to know the whereabouts of his former wife.
When they refused to tell him, the teen said Haskell shot them and then planned to drive to her grandparents’ house to look for Melanie Kay Haskell.
The wounded teen alerted police, who convinced Haskell to surrender without further bloodshed.
Court records from Utah show that Haskell was charged in 2008 with domestic violence and simple assault against his wife, after she told authorities he hit her in the head and dragged her by the hair.
Haskell pleaded guilty to assault but had the domestic violence charge dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
His wife filed a protective order against him in July 2013 in Cache County, Utah, applying to herself and their four children.
Haskell’s wife then moved away and filed for divorce about a month later, and the divorce was finalized in February 2014.
Under federal law, the protective order should have barred him from owning guns, Mother Jones reported.
But the protective order was converted to a “mutual restraining order” as part of the divorce and custody proceedings – so it would not likely have been reported to the FBI for the purpose of a background check because it became part of the divorce decree, rather than falling under the domestic abuse statute.
Haskell’s 2008 assault conviction would not have barred him from owning guns in Utah and Texas, either, because the domestic violence charge was dropped in the plea deal.
That conviction should have activated a federal law that would have prevented Haskell from owning guns, but he entered a plea in abeyance – which allowed the assault conviction to be dismissed after he went eight months without being charged with another crime.
However, Haskell apparently had two other pending restraining orders filed against him by his sister, in November, and his mother, on July 3.
His mother said Haskell became angry at her because she’d spoken to his ex-wife, duct-taped her to a chair, and choked her to the point of unconsciousness.
She said her son threatened to kill her, other family members, and any police officer who tried to stop him.
Three different bills that would strengthen federal laws are stalled in Congress, thanks to lobbying efforts by groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Federal laws prohibit gun possession by convicted felons, subjects of permanent domestic-violence protective orders, and current or former spouses, parents, and guardians convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.
But the current law doesn’t apply to those convicted of misdemeanor stalking or current or former partners convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors if they've never lived or had a child together.
The prohibition also does not cover partners who are subject to a temporary restraining order.
Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to bar those convicted of stalking or dating partner abuse or anyone under temporary restraining orders from buying or possessing guns.
But the NRA has objected to the bills, saying sponsors had manipulated “emotionally compelling issues such as 'domestic violence' and 'stalking' simply to cast as wide a net as possible for firearm prohibitions."
The bills have not advanced far in Congress, and protections at the state level aren’t much stricter.
In fact, only 11 states bar convicted stalkers from owning guns.