WITH THE Maryland General Assembly entering its final weeks, a question that emerges is whether lawmakers will find the time — not to mention the resolve — to enact some common-sense protections for women who have been raped or are the victims of domestic violence.
Two bills are in play. One would require convicted domestic abusers to turn over their firearms to police or sell them to a federally licensed dealer within 48 hours of conviction, providing proof to the courts within five days. The other would allow a woman who becomes pregnant as the result of rape to go to court to terminate the parental rights of her assailant.
The good news is that both measures have progressed in the legislature with broad support. The House unanimously approved a bill to have Maryland join more than 20 other states in facilitating the denial of parental rights to rapists. Both chambers have given tentative approval to versions of a bill that would toughen laws barring certain domestic violence offenders from possessing or purchasing guns.
The bad news is that both bills still face challenges in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).
Mr. Zirkin has yet to schedule a vote on the legislation terminating rapists’ parental rights even though similar legislation has previously won full Senate approval before stalling in the House. This year, it has the backing of 33 senators and 78 delegates. Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) supports it, and his office in two advisory opinions has attested to its constitutionality. Groups as different as Planned Parenthood and Maryland Right to Life are behind it. And on Thursday, the Maryland State Bar Association, which had voiced opposition, endorsed the legislation with some minor amendments.
The hurdle for the firearms legislation is whether the committee will continue to insist that rifles and shotguns be treated differently than handguns. An amendment that likely will come up for a vote this week would allow long guns to be given to a friend or family member rather than — as would be required with handguns — to law enforcement or sold to a gun dealer. While most domestic violence shootings and homicides involve handguns, there are still significant numbers (estimated nationally between 25 and 30 percent) that involve long guns. It was, for example, a .22-caliber rifle that a Maryland man used in 2007 to kill his ex-wife, their three children and himself.
These bills should not be controversial. One puts in place a mechanism to enforce existing law and the other allows for termination of parental rights if there is clear and convincing evidence a child was conceived through rape. If the bills die or are gutted in committee, Marylanders would do well to ask why the needs of vulnerable women and children seem to matter so little in Annapolis.