In 2011, the same year they stripped public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights and passed Wisconsin’s most austere budget in at least a generation, Republicans in the state Legislature checked a couple points off the pro-gun wish list. Concealed carry permits? Check. Expansive castle doctrine law protecting gun-toting homeowners? Also check.
They couldn’t know what was coming in 2012. News broke of one gun-related tragedy after another. A med-school dropout in Colorado opened fire in a crowded theater. A white supremacist residing in South Milwaukee stormed Oak Creek’s Sikh temple, killing six. And a Connecticut gunman murdered 20 first-graders and seven adults before killing himself less than two weeks before Christmas.
The Newtown horror prompted proposals from all sides – from gun-control advocates wanting assault rifles banned to the National Rifle Association’s call for armed guards in schools. More debate came in Wisconsin, where two of the year’s mass killings took place, including the Oct. 21 rampage at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield. For all the deaths in Connecticut, it was this shooting that had special relevance to Badger State policy. Zina Haughton, the murdered wife of gunman Radcliffe Haughton, had obtained a restraining order against him less than a week before. State law called for him to surrender all weapons, but he bought the handgun he used in the shooting just one day before opening fire.
After Azana, advocates of tougher gun laws saw a chance to reframe the debate from one about gun rights to another about domestic violence laws. Even Republican Gov. Scott Walker performed a similar pivot a week after the shooting in an appearance on “Meet the Press.” He suggested that Democrats and Republicans could find common ground on “a greater focus on tightening up domestic violence laws” and their enforcement.