Vulnerable Women, Protected Weapons

For those of us not citizens of the United States, the ease with which Americans can procure and use firearms, and the noise of the debate about those issues, are surprising to say the least.

Restrictions that we more or less take for granted are not part and parcel of the American landscape.

This week I was surprised to learn that people against whom protective orders have been issued due to domestic violence, routinely still walk around with their guns.

In an excellent article in the New York Times, Michael Luo surveyed the legal situation in a number of states, and brought some harrowing examples where forcing people to surrender their weapons once a protective order had been issued, might very well have saved lives.

Early last year, after a series of frightening encounters with her former husband, Stephanie Holten went to court in Spokane, Wash., to obtain a temporary order for protection.Ms. Holten had recently applied for and obtained an order for protection against Mr. Holten.

Her former husband, Corey Holten, threatened to put a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger, she wrote in her petition. He also said he would “put a cap” in her if her new boyfriend “gets near my kids.” In neat block letters she wrote, “ He owns guns, I am scared.”

The judge’s order prohibited Mr. Holten from going within two blocks of his former wife’s home and imposed a number of other restrictions. What it did not require him to do was surrender his guns.

About 12 hours after he was served with the order, Mr. Holten was lying in wait when his former wife returned home from a date with their two children in tow. Armed with a small semiautomatic rifle bought several months before, he stepped out of his car and thrust the muzzle into her chest. He directed her inside the house, yelling that he was going to kill her.

“I remember thinking, ‘Cops, I need the cops,’ ” she later wrote in a statement to the police. “He’s going to kill me in my own house. I’m going to die!”

Ms. Holten, however, managed to dial 911 on her cellphone and slip it under a blanket on the couch.  The dispatcher heard Ms. Holten begging for her life and quickly directed officers to the scene. As they mounted the stairs with their guns drawn, Mr. Holten surrendered. They found Ms. Holten cowering, hysterical, on the floor.

For all its rage and terror, the episode might well have been prevented. Had Mr. Holten lived in one of a handful of states, the protection order would have forced him to relinquish his firearms. But that is not the case in Washington and most of the country, in large part because of the influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies.

In Israel, The Law for the Prevention of Violence in the Family, 5751-1991,  requires the court to forbid the person against whom the protective order has been issued to carry or possess arms. The law goes on to provide some exceptions, but these are applied carefully. The downside of the law is that most protective orders are issued ex parte, and a hearing must be held within seven days with both parties present. At the second hearing the protective order is sometimes dismissed, and the person against whom it has been issued then has to wrestle with bureaucracy in order to get his weapon back, a weapon he may require for work in the police, security forces or simply as a security guard.

It would seem to be patently obvious that where there are grounds for a protective order there are grounds to forbid someone from carrying a weapon. The US statistics on the number of deaths of women at the hands of intimate partners are quite frightening. As Mr. Luo’s article points out:

Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half the women killed every year, according to federal statistics. More than half of these women are killed with a firearm. And a significant percentage were likely to have obtained protection orders against their eventual killers. (A 2001 study, published in Criminal Justice Review, of women slain by intimate partners in 10 cities put that number at one in five.)

One would think that the intimate partners constitutional right to life should outweigh the constitutional right to bear arms.

Apparently, the matter is not that simply, and not simply resolved. The article provides a comprehensive survey of many of the legal issues and issues surrounding enforcement of provisions intended to limit access to weapons. Well worth the read.



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