A community in Texas is still reeling after a 33 year-old man brutally murdered a family, including four children who were aged between just 4 and 14.
The man, Ronald Lee Haskell, is accused of shooting the four children and their parents after arriving on the doorstep in a Fed Ex uniform and breaking down the door when one member of the household tried to close it on him.
The murder itself was shocking. “I have not personally in 40 years seen a tragedy in one family that is this horrific,” Ron Hickman, the Harris County Precinct 4 constable, told the Houston Chronicle. According to reports Haskell waited in the home with five children until their parents came home, allegedly hoping to get information to find the location of his ex-wife. Only one victim survived.
“Where was his ex-wife, he demanded? Either no one knew or no one would say. So, police say, Haskell forced them to lie face down and shot them all in the head. He then drove away in the family’s Honda,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “Miraculously, the bullet intended to kill [15 year-old] Cassidy only grazed her head. She played dead until her burly ex-uncle left, and then called 911.”
Haskell had a history of violence against his ex, and had protective orders issued against him. His ex wife even fled the state with her children in order to protect them all from his abuse, according to news reports. Yet none of that stopped Haskell from having a gun.
According to Mother Jones, although protective orders prohibit a person from obtaining a gun legally, a mutual restraining order doesn’t. Haskell was originally slapped with a protective order, but as part of the bargaining process for a divorce, he had that whittled down.
“Under federal law, Haskell’s protective order should have prohibited him from owning guns,” says Laura Cutilletta, a staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. However, in October 2013, Haskell’s protective order was converted to a ‘mutual restraining order’ as part of their divorce and custody proceedings,” writes Hannah Levintona.
“This crucial step likely meant that Haskell was legally allowed to have guns again, under both state and federal law,” Laura Cutilletta adds. “Had the first protection order not been dropped [it's] likely he would have been prohibited.”
Haskell had also been convicted for physically abusing his wife, but that probably wouldn’t have prohibited him from owning a gun, either.
“Nor is it likely that Haskell’s 2008 conviction barred him from owning a gun in Utah or Texas,” Cutilletta says, “because he was convicted of simple assault rather than domestic violence.”
Democrats have been working on new federal bills that would allow more restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership for those with abusive pasts. A series of legislative proposals have been introduced that would forbid firearms being sold to those with restraining orders, abusive partners or stalkers, according to Mother Jones, but they have been stuck in committees or not brought up for votes, in part because of strong opposition from the NRA.
That leaves not just former spouses and their families in danger, but anyone who comes into contact with the ex of a violent partner. “According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 114 women died from domestic violence in 2012, the most recent year statistics are available,” reports Anita Hassan at the Houston Chronicle. “The same year, 15 friends or family members of the intended victim were killed and another eight were injured.”
Their only “crime”? Being in the area of a violent person with a gun who was intent on harming an ex.
“Here’s the reality: more than half of the women killed with guns in the U.S. are murdered by their partners,” states Every Town for Gun Safety, an advocacy group for sensible gun restriction. “Every month, 46 women are shot and killed in the U.S. by a current or former boyfriend or spouse. We researched mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 and found that 57 percent of mass shootings involved the murder of a partner or other close family member. But we know that common-sense gun laws will protect domestic violence victims and save lives. In states that require background checks, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.”
Tighter gun restrictions for those with violent pasts are a must to keep our society safer, and it’s something that has to happen at a federal level, not just for the sake of former partners but, as the Haskell case has shown us, for their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, too.
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