Abuse Bills Resonate With Several Md. Lawmakers

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009

As a child, Prince George's Sen. C. Anthony Muse watched as his mother was beaten by his stepfather.

So did Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., who comes from rural Cecil County.

Several generations of women in Baltimore Sen. Verna L. Jones's family suffered abuse. And Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, also from Baltimore, was hit repeatedly by an ex-husband who later accidentally killed himself with a shotgun.

As the Maryland General Assembly has spent several weeks debating difficult bills that deal with domestic abuse, a sad truth has emerged: Even lawmakers have not been immune from the scourge of violence in the home.

And as a long-standing taboo on revealing painful experiences with the issue has been lifted, more and more have stepped forward to share their stories with colleagues.

Yesterday, the state Senate advanced a bill, pushed by the governor, that would make it easier for judges to confiscate firearms from domestic violence suspects. They stripped the measure of an amendment that could have complicated its passage because it would have made it easier for domestic violence victims to get handgun permits.

As they also did when the House of Delegates debated domestic violence measures in recent weeks, lawmakers announced from the Senate floor that their views on the proposal were shaped by personal history.

For Muse, it was the image of his mother facing down a 200-pound abuser armed with an iron. The police were called, his stepfather was taken to jail and Muse was in foster care by age 13.

Muse (D), a pastor at a Prince George's church, went on to tell senators that he has officiated at the funerals of eight congregants killed by abusive boyfriends or husbands.

He ultimately took no position on the amendment, fearing it could bring down a bill he believes is important. But he said he hopes to start a discussion about whether victims should find it easier to get a gun to defend themselves when the law so often proves inadequate.

"There are times a protective order is just a piece of paper, given to an irate man, already going to do whatever he's going to do," he said.

Advocates for domestic violence victims had opposed the amendment, pleading with lawmakers not to encourage the injection of lethal weapons into highly charged disputes. Without the provision, they said, they were hopeful about the chances for the bill's passage when the Senate considers it soon for a final vote.

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