Gun Seizure Bills Deserve To Fail: Weapons, Domestic Violence A Fatal Mix
Article printed in the Concord Monitor – 02/22/2005
The Legislature will soon debate two bills that seek reconsideration of laws that allow judges and police officers to seize guns in domestic violence cases. Rep. Howard Dickinson, a Republican from Center Conway, is sponsoring a bill to study gun seizure law, and Rep. Richard Kennedy of Contoocook is promoting a bill to reshape the law itself.
Neither bill deserves support. When the Legislature reformed the domestic violence laws several years ago, the issue of guns and domestic violence got extensive review. There was testimony from all sides at a public hearing in Representatives Hall.
After months of deliberation, legislators decided that people who committed domestic violence forfeited their right to possess guns for the 12 months of their restraining order. Unless the abuser poses a continuing threat, courts will return the guns after the year is up.
There is no good reason to revisit this law now.
The reasons for the seizure law are straightforward. The most important is public safety. Gun seizures may save lives. Removing guns lessens the chance of homicide and suicide by taking one risk factor out of the equation.
Domestic violence commonly features heightened emotional volatility. Out-of-control anger may not be far from homicidal rage. In a heartbeat, in the context of an argument, guns can turn domestic violence into homicide. Taking the guns makes it harder to murder.
It is not as though we lack experience with domestic violence-related homicide. Two-thirds of our homicides in New Hampshire are connected to domestic violence. That is a long-standing pattern consistent with national figures.
Women are far more likely to be killed by a spouse, an intimate acquaintance or a family member than by a stranger. Most often, it happens during an argument. Guns are the most common murder weapon.
It is hard to miss the almost routine homicide stories that appear in the media with numbing regularity. The story varies little: A current or former boyfriend or spouse shoots an abused girlfriend or wife. Then the boyfriend or spouse kills himself, explaining he would rather die than see his ex with a new lover.
I received my own education on the role of guns in domestic violence cases from my former client, Karen. She and her ex-husband had an ongoing custody battle after their divorce.
Karen’s ex-husband always had multiple weapons on his person, including guns and knives. He wore a shoulder holster and an ankle holster. He maintained a large gun collection in his mobile home. It was like every day he was preparing for a battle.
Gun display was his form of intimidation. He had previously threatened Karen while holding a gun to her head. He made death threats. To the great distress of his son, he shot and killed the family dog. He used weapons to communicate physical menace and to try and keep Karen in line.
He also specialized in psychological abuse. He consistently belittled Karen and called her demeaning names. Everything was always her fault. He never could see his responsibility.
Years after the divorce, he continued to stalk Karen. He would park across the street from her apartment and monitor her whereabouts, her activities and her visitors. He kept a log detailing what he observed, including descriptions of visitors, their license plate numbers and speculation about Karen’s activities of which he disapproved.
During the course of the case, I obtained a copy of the log he maintained. It included almost daily entries and read like he was a private investigator or a police officer. After the court issued a restraining order against him, he contacted me and claimed he was the victim of an elaborate plot hatched by his ex-wife and her supporters.
In an article in the Monitor in early January, Rep. Dickinson stated there is excessive paranoia about guns and they may have nothing to do with a couple divorcing. He believed the gun seizure laws demonstrate too much caution. He also expressed concern about the lack of care given to valuable guns after they are confiscated by the police.
Such comments trivialize domestic violence and the well-documented role guns have played in homicide and intimidation. No right, including state constitutional rights about guns, are absolute. Domestic violence abusers lose their right to possess weapons because of their behavior, not their beliefs.
I am curious if the legislators sponsoring the study bill think convicted felons or those with severe mental illness should still have access to weapons. Maybe they want a study committee about that, too.
Rep. Kennedy’s bill reads like a Batterers’ Protection Act. He proposes raising the burden of proof in all civil domestic violence cases to make it harder to prove abuse. And, surprise, he wants to make it far harder to remove weapons. His bill would be a comfort to abusers everywhere.
These bills are sour grapes. Some pro-gun legislators did not like the law change requiring removal of weapons if the court finds abuse. Giving a domestic violence abuser a gun makes about as much sense as putting a drunken driver behind the wheel. In this instance, it appears that pro-gun legislators care more about their precious guns than precious lives lost.