Arming Abuse Victims Is the Wrong Way to Curb Domestic Violence

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

THE PROBLEM: Guns accounted for more than half of the deaths resulting from domestic violence in Maryland from June 2007 to July 2008. The solution, according to some lawmakers: more guns. The Maryland Senate may vote as early as today on an amendment that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain guns. In theory, empowering victims could discourage potential abusers. In practice, adding guns to an already combustible situation is likely to lead to more violence. The Senate should reject the amendment.

The provision undermines two potentially life-saving bills that would make it more difficult for suspected abusers to carry firearms. One bill would allow judges to strip abuse suspects who were subject to temporary restraining orders of the right to carry firearms. The other bill would bar abuse suspects who were subject to final restraining orders from possessing guns. In past years, similar legislation passed the Senate but died in the House Judiciary Committee. When the House passed the bills last week, free of amendments that would mar their effectiveness, it seemed that there were few obstacles left.

Enter Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) and Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick). The two lawmakers, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, proposed an amendment that would expedite the process by which domestic abuse victims could obtain firearms. The committee approved the provision, which was tacked on to the bill that deals with final protective orders, by a 6 to 5 vote.

Victims' advocates and law enforcement officers have serious concerns about the amendment. They worry that an abuser could discover a firearm hidden by a victim or wrestle away a gun during a dispute. It takes considerable training, police officials note, to be able to effectively wield a gun in self-defense. There's another wrinkle: An abuser could misleadingly claim to be a victim of domestic violence and file for a protective order. This would rush a gun into the hands of someone capable of violence. And police officers called to domestic disputes could find themselves in greater danger.

Maybe backers of the amendment have seen one Jodie Foster film too many, but, in the real world, victims don't usually resolve dangerous situations with gunfire. Strong legislation to keep guns away from abusers, not easy-to-obtain guns, is the best protection for victims.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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