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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?

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