Domestic Abuse Suspects Shouldn't Be Able to Keep Their Guns

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

GAIL PUMPHREY came to dread meeting her ex-husband to transfer custody of their children. Sometimes he would curse at her. Once, she said, he spit in her face. On Thanksgiving Day two years ago, he fatally shot Ms. Pumphrey and their three children -- ages 7, 10 and 12 -- before killing himself. He used a .22-caliber rifle, the same gun Ms. Pumphrey had asked a court to confiscate just three weeks before.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering two bills that would make it harder for those accused of domestic violence to keep their guns. The legislation comes too late to save Ms. Pumphrey and her children but would help prevent such tragedies in the future.

One bill would give judges the option of confiscating the firearms of domestic abuse suspects against whom temporary protective orders have been issued. The other would require judges to order the seizure of guns from suspects once final protective orders are in place. A number of states, including North Carolina and California, already have such measures. Even Virginia, not known for limiting gun ownership, prohibits domestic violence suspects from buying or carrying guns when protective orders have been issued against them.

Inexcusably, such legislation has died in the House Judiciary Committee in past years. The committee, chaired by Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's), has a reputation for protecting the rights of the accused -- sometimes at the expense of reasonable policy. Mr. Vallario, a criminal defense lawyer, told The Post's Lisa Rein that his main concern was that law enforcement officers accused of domestic abuse would not be able to carry their guns for work. It seems to us that Mr. Vallario should be more concerned about the safety of an abused spouse than the ability of an officer suspected of domestic violence to carry a gun.

Other critics contend that the bills unfairly target firearms. After all, they say, a spouse or partner can be harmed with a baseball bat or a knife. The statistics tell a different story: Female victims of domestic violence are more likely to be killed in shootings than through all other methods of violence combined. In Maryland, guns accounted for more than half of domestic-violence-related deaths from June 2007 to July 2008.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) spoke passionately last week before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee about the need for tougher domestic violence laws. Mr. Brown no doubt drew upon a recent family tragedy: His cousin Catherine Brown was shot to death by an estranged boyfriend last year. Advocates for victims of domestic violence believe the legislation has a chance this year because of the O'Malley administration's support. We hope they're right. Mr. Vallario and his colleagues have the chance to save the next Gail Pumphrey.

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