Challenges to restricting gun-building in wake of Middleton workplace shooting

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MIDDLETON (WKOW) — Five months after a man barred from possessing firearms built his own gun and shot and wounded co-workers at a Middleton software firm, state lawmakers continue to search for a solution to the apparent, safety loophole.

Authorities say four responding law enforcement officers shot and killed Anthony Tong Sept. 19 at WTS Paradigm.  They say a court’s mental health order prohibited Tong from owning guns.  But authorities also say Tong ordered parts to assemble the final 20 percent of what essentially was a Glock hand gun.  Federal law allows obtaining 80 percent – the lower portion – of a gun already assembled, with anyone wanting to complete the firearm having to finish the construction.

In January, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said the Middleton shooting needed to be the catalyst to address the ability of Tong and others like him to build their own guns.

“We need to use this incident,” Mahoney said.  “We must use this incident.”

Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke says there’s ignorance over the inability to track these so-called “ghost guns.”  Home-built guns can lack serial numbers.

“With zero tracking…zero regulations I think is something that most people in our community, in our state would find surprising,”  Foulke says.

“Anybody who can do Amazon can figure out how to find a place that sells gun parts and order them and then build a gun,”  Foulke says.

“Guns are not complicated pieces of equipment,” Wisconsin Carry, Inc. President Nik Clark says.

Clark says his pro-gun organization is likely to oppose any state attempt to restrict amateur gun building.  He says the many hobbyists who assemble firearms would be burdened with costs and red tape, while people such as Tong would continue to find ways to avoid any restrictions.

“I think it’s a false sense of security,”  Clark says.

But Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) says there’s societal costs if no actions are taken.

“I mean the loss of life is onerous and expensive…and not only that but it’s tragic,” Subeck says.

While Subeck maintains addressing this route of acquiring firearms by those who are banned from having guns is important, she’s still searching for an approach that’s balanced and effective.

States with laws regulating the building of guns include New Jersey, which bans the purchase of parts or kits to build untraceable firearms, and California, which requires anyone with a home-built gun to apply for a serial number.

“I’m not sure if either of them has the right solution,” Subeck says.

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) introduced a state Assembly resolution honoring the two Middleton Police officers and two Dane County Sheriff’s deputies who ended the workplace shooting threat.  Hesselbein says she also reached across the political aisle to begin gauging support for keeping people such as Tong from simply building their own guns.

“I know my Republican colleagues pretty well and the few that I talked to were open to having that conversation,”  Hesselbein says.

As with the state Senate, the Assembly is controlled by a Republican majority.  A spokesperson for Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did respond to an email seeking comment on Vos’ position related to possible restrictions on gun building.

The ease with which the final, 20 percent of firearms can be assembled was demonstrated in May by WJLA-TV reporter Nathan Baca in Washington, D.C.  Without any background in gun parts or their assembly, Baca says he ordered a kit online, with a photographer documenting Baca’s construction of a Glock-type handgun in one hour.

Foulke says his worry over what Tong did in preparation for his shooting spree is only heightened by online advertising on this avenue to acquiring guns.

“It didn’t take a brain surgeon to order those parts over the internet,”  Foulke says.  “And order a gun.”

Tony Galli

Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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