Police Shouldn't Get Gun Rule Exemption

Monday, February 23, 2009

POLICE OFFICERS ought to be ardent supporters of legislation to take guns away from domestic abuse suspects. After all, it's the officers' responsibility to uphold the law, and abuse suspects use handguns and rifles to break it at alarming rates; half of the 75 domestic-violence-related homicides in Maryland last year involved guns. It is unconscionable, then, that the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police is pushing an exemption for police officers. The union's attempt to shield abusive officers from the consequences of their actions is an insult to countless victims of domestic violence and should be soundly rejected.

The General Assembly is considering two bills that would help protect abuse victims. One would give judges the discretion to take away the guns of abuse suspects subject to a temporary protective order. The other would require judges to take away the guns of abuse suspects after a final protective order has been issued.

The Fraternal Order of Police is promoting a law-enforcement-only exemption in the second bill that would give judges the discretion not to take away an officer's gun. The group argues that the bill attacks the livelihood of officers accused of domestic violence. It seems to us that if officers want to keep their guns, they should follow a simple rule: Don't abuse your significant others.

Some critics claim the legislation leaves officers vulnerable to false accusations of abuse. Backers of the bills acknowledge that this happens, if infrequently. That's why an accuser must present "clear and convincing evidence" of abuse -- hardly an insignificant standard -- to persuade a judge to issue a final protective order.

It's telling that many police chiefs and sheriffs have testified in support of the bills, with or without special treatment for officers. They recognize that in such potentially life-threatening situations, it's better to err on the side of protection.

It may be that the officers-only exemption is a necessary concession to spring the bill from the House Judiciary Committee, which is notoriously biased toward defendants, and secure a modicum of protection for abuse victims. But that doesn't mean it's right.

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