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October 27, 2008

A Constitutional Right to Bully Women?

There is a legislative battle going on in the state of Maryland which focuses on an aspect of gun violence which gets far too little attention: the use of firearms in domestic violence.

According to the Washington Post, the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, recently indicated his interest in sponsoring two bills that failed by lopsided votes in a House committee during the previous legislative session. The effect of this legislative package would be to require individuals who are the subject of final protective orders limiting contact with an abused spouse or partner to surrender their firearms to local law enforcement.

Currently, judges are given the discretion to determine whether an individual should surrender his firearms or not—and these orders apply only to handguns.

Maryland gun rights advocates were successful in stalling the legislation earlier this year. Some of the explanations provided by members of Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee who voted against the bills were less than convincing. House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) “said he and other judiciary members were sensitive to concerns involving the constitutional rights to bear arms, as well as questions about how the legislation would affect police officers who carry guns on the job.”

Maryland legislators are concerned about the “constitutional rights” of men who bully and beat women in their communities? And Shank's latter point is equally odd given that the Maryland State Police support the legislation. Apparently, shame doesn’t come into play when the National Rifle Association is handing out ‘A’ grades.

The Violence Policy Center recently published a national report on domestic violence which found that 1,836 women were murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents in 2006—five a day, every day. More than 12 times as many females were murdered by a man they knew than were killed by male strangers.

And it’s not just homicide. The Harvard School of Public Health has found that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”

Perhaps Gov. O’Malley’s intervention will spark greater consideration of this critical issue. Do you know what the laws of your state are regarding domestic violence and firearms? Have you ever discussed the issue with your state legislator(s)? Now would be a great time to start a dialogue with your elected representatives. They are asking for your vote; shouldn’t you ask them a couple of questions in return?

October 20, 2008

The Banality of Opposing Views

Over the years I have been struck by how many times I have come to like and appreciate many of the most ardent opponents of sensible gun control. Despite our differences of opinion, our goals are the same—a safer and more decent nation. We simply disagree on how to reach those goals.

I remember one occasion when I was being interviewed on television in Chiloquin, Oregon, and a man rose up from the audience to rail at the moderator. He was upset that he had been prohibited from bringing his guns into the studio. When asked why he needed to have them there, the man replied: “So I can shoot that lying [expletive] Mike Beard.” Naturally, I talked with him after the show and got to speak with him on other occasions during my stay in Oregon. I came to really enjoy this feisty pro-gunner who used inflammatory rhetoric to make his point.

One of my favorite people in the pro-gun movement has always been Neal Knox, former executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. Neal is an unrepentant hard-liner on the gun issue. His website, “The Hard Corps,” expresses his positions clearly and with great bravado. When asked about Neal by a reporter on one occasion, I truthfully replied, “In political matters he is a mean S.O.B., but personally he is the kind of man you would like to have as a grandfather.” For several years after that remark I received a nice card from Neal on Father’s Day signed simply, “Your Grandfather.”

I was reminded of these past encounters by a great blog that appears elsewhere on this website this week by Ladd Everitt. Ladd wrote about a day he recently spent with Brian Borgelt, the former owner of Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington. Bull’s Eye has been the source of many guns found on crime scenes in America—including the rifle that was used in the famous Beltway murder spree in 2002.

In Ladd’s blog, Borgelt comes across as someone with whom you could be friends in spite of his shady business practices. That human element—which is present even between individuals with huge divisions in ideology and philosophy—has been one of the pleasant surprises of my lifelong journey through this movement, and something I still cherish.

October 13, 2008

Hard Times, Hard Deaths

Over the years, numerous rigorous academic studies have pointed out the relationship between household firearms ownership and the rate of suicide. According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health: "Deciding whether to own a gun entails balancing potential benefits and risks. One of the risks for which the empirical evidence is strongest, and the risk whose death toll is greatest, is that of completed suicide."

As the current economic crisis deepens, Americans across the country will find themselves struggling with stress and depression. The media has yet to address how this situation will affect the suicide rate in America, and how guns will factor into that equation.

We should fear the spread of horrific events like the one that occurred last week in California. An unemployed financial advisor, distraught over money worries, killed himself and five family members at their upscale Los Angeles home with a handgun he had recently purchased.

Simultaneously, we are seeing alarming stories of an increase in sales of guns as a result of the economic downturn. If this is true, how much more tragedy will result? How many more lives will be lost due to the combination of impulsive behavior and the ready availability of firearms?