Posts Tagged ‘guns and domestic violence’

Guns in the New Hampshire State House, Round Two – posted 12/21/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor on 12/26/2014

December 21, 2014 2 comments

This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on December 26, 2014 under the title “Gun Crazy”.

On December 19, the Concord Monitor reported that a House Committee voted to allow legislators to carry concealed weapons on the House Floor. It looks very likely concealed carry will pass when the legislative session opens in January 2015.

The gun vote is a replay of 2010 when the Republican-controlled House voted to allow concealed carry in the House Chamber, cloakroom anteroom, and adjacent areas including the visitors’ gallery.

Concealed carry stayed in effect until the Democrats regained control of the House in the 2012 election. On the first day of the session in 2013, the House banned concealed carry.

With all due respect to our legislators, concealed carry in the State House is a very bad idea. The majority seems to confuse that idea with doing something. Being a legislator should not be about macho showboating and posturing about packing heat. How about focusing on doing something for constituents?

I do not think the dark side of legislators bringing guns to committee or session meetings has been adequately explained. Whatever gun proponents subjectively think, the presence of guns is objectively threatening. Armed legislators may feel they are proudly standing up for their Second Amendment rights but their guns, in this context, are intimidating. They have a bullying effect on those not carrying.

Some of my feelings about the bullying effect of guns comes from past life experience as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. In the world of abusers, there are some creepy ones who always have guns or knives on their person. It is a power and control thing. The abuser uses the weapons as a fear factor to intimidate the victim into submission. The weapons seem to have the effect of making the abuser feel more powerful relative to the victim. Guns and knives keep the victim in line. There is an unspoken message: obey or face the consequences which are typically physical and emotional abuse.

Whether intended or not, I do think legislators packing has the same bullying effect.There is a subconscious, my way-or-the-highway message.

The Legislature should be a place for calm deliberation. Legislators bring vastly differing policy agendas. It is no surprise that many legislators feel passionately about the rightness of their ideas. We know passions can run high during legislative debate.

I would argue that the presence of guns in this context is a net negative. Legislators should be equal and no one should have a leg up because of intimidation. The proponents are oblivious to the effect of their gun possession. Maybe they like the power of wielding weapons but they overlook the bully part.

Guns do carry an implied threat and menace. The House is not a shooting range. Neither is it the OK Corral. Guns do not contribute to an atmosphere of reasoned debate.

The proponents of concealed carry in the Legislature have argued guns are necessary for self-protection there. They have fantasized active shooter scenarios with armed legislators saving the day. They seem to be expecting a Wild West shoot-out.

I would point out that in the over 200 year history of the New Hampshire Legislature, there has never been a shooting incident. In the 40 year period prior to 2010, the House had rules banning deadly weapons in the State House. As noted, there were no incidents in this lengthy time period which spanned countless committee and session meetings.

While anything is possible, the legislators arguing the need for armed self-protection are, based on the evidence, paranoid. One can only speculate on the psychological reasons for the paranoia. Is it baseless suspicion, persecutory delusions or feelings of sexual inadequacy which produce these feelings about the need to be armed? Maybe the legislators have simply watched too many violent TV shows and they have conflated TV with real life.

As someone who has spent plenty of time in the area around the State House, it also needs to be reiterated that the area is not scary. The dark alleys of Concord are not very dark. Anyone who tries to paint the area as some kind of danger zone is out to lunch. That is a bad joke.

The presence of guns in the Legislature is much more likely to lead to an accidental shooting than anything else. Witness the 2012 accident when a state representative dropped his gun on the floor at the start of a meeting of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Fortunately, the gun did not discharge. That story made national news.The representative said he had given blood that morning and the blood donation made him loopy. That representative routinely wore two guns in shoulder holsters to legislative meetings.

So I guess I would ask: how about assault rifles and machine guns in the House? If the proponents believe there are no limits on the Second Amendment, do they want legislators to have the right to carry those weapons too?

It is a misconstruction of the Second Amendment to see it as an unlimited right not connected with any responsibility or civic duty. Nothing in the Second Amendment prevents reasonable regulation of that right. There is no legal problem with Legislatures banning deadly weapons in State Houses. In fact, very few state legislatures allow it.

I want to make it clear I too support the Second Amendment along with reasonable regulation. I accept that the US Supreme Court has made clear the individual right to carry arms and use them in self-defense. The right is also outlined in the New Hampshire Constitution. That said, as I make clear in this piece, I think a state can do some things in the interest of public safety.

We sensibly keep armed litigants out of courtrooms. The General Court is really no different than a courtroom. Legislators need a safe place to argue and disagree.

If legislators feel insecure or fearful, aren’t metal detectors at more restricted entrances a better way to go? We could have that. In addition we could beef up our state police presence at the State House. I expect our state troopers would be far more expert at handling any incident than legislators.

I would predict that bringing guns back to the State House will end in embarrassment for New Hampshire. I am not sure how exactly but we will likely end up as fodder for the Daily Show and a punch line for jokes.

Domestic Violence Is Our Greatest Threat – published in the Concord Monitor 5/26/2013

May 26, 2013 Leave a comment

The two big news stories of the last six months, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Newtown school shootings, have highlighted the behavior of two terrorists and a psychopath. However, I would argue that day in and day out the greater threat of assault and murder is more likely to come from a disgruntled spouse or ex-boyfriend.

On average, three women are murdered daily in the United States by a current or former intimate partner. Guns have generally been the weapon of choice for intimate partner homicide and just the presence of guns has increased the lethality of domestic violence incidents. Murders are often preceded by a lengthy history of domestic violence and stalking that can include the use of guns to intimidate. I believe this pattern has been long-standing.

About 15 years ago, I represented a client who was a domestic violence victim. She was a single working woman who lived in a rural part of New Hampshire. She wanted to separate completely from her former boyfriend. The two of them argued frequently and on one occasion, he grabbed her around the throat with both hands and he attempted to strangle her. She got away but he warned her that he could kill her if he wanted to. He had made several threats to shoot her.

My client was very scared. The ex-boyfriend was a gunowner and my client felt his behavior had become increasingly unpredictable. She obtained a temporary restraining order. She also purchased a cell phone for protection in the event of an emergency.

At the final hearing on the domestic violence, the ex-boyfriend admitted to the abuse but he asked the court to allow him to keep his guns. He explained that hunting season was coming up and hunting was his favorite activity. My client asked the court not to allow her ex-boyfriend access to his guns. He hunted in the woods near her house. She was afraid of being stalked and murdered.

The court initially ruled he could check his guns in and out of the police station when he wanted to hunt. The court found my client’s request to confiscate guns was unreasonable and inconsistent with New Hampshire’s venerable hunting tradition. On reconsideration, the court did change its mind and confiscated the guns because of federal domestic violence law.

New Hampshire has come a long way since those days. The state now has one of the strongest domestic violence laws in the country. Courts can order abusers to relinquish firearms after issuing a temporary retraining order. The law also allows courts to issue a warrant to search for guns if necessary. If there is a finding of abuse, the perpetrator loses the right to hold firearms for a year.

It is not an automatic that the guns come back after a year. The perpetrator must petition the Court and a hearing will be held to determine if he still represents a credible threat to the victim of the abuse. Law enforcement will not release firearms without a court order granting such release.

A March article in the New York Times by Michael Luo showed the wide range of state responses to the matter of guns and domestic violence. Twenty states require surrender of firearms and ammunition when a protective order is issued. In many states, gun rights organizations have stymied and stopped the type of reforms passed in New Hampshire. As a result, many states have less protective law for domestic violence victims than New Hampshire.

In Virginia, the gun lobby has repeatedly stopped efforts to make it illegal for people subject to court injunction to possess firearms. In Washington state, judges will only order the surrender of weapons in very specific situations like a determination by clear and convincing evidence that the person had used the weapon in a felony or had committed another offense that by law would disqualify him from having a firearm.

The variety of domestic violence laws in the states gives more appreciation for the wisdom of New Hampshire’s current law in this area. Only New Hampshire allows law enforcement the broad authority to remove all firearms and ammunition in the abuser’s control, ownership, or possession at the time of a domestic violence incident.

Other states allow the removal of only certain firearms or allow removal only if certain conditions are met. For example, some states only allow removal of weapons used in the domestic violence incident. A different group of states only allow for removal of weapons observed at the scene or in plain view. There are also states that will only allow removal of weapons pursuant to a consensual search.

The duration of the firearm removal is yet another issue. Many states hold weapons for much less time than a one year restraining order.There are states where law enforcement will only hold the firearms until proceedings against the abuser are concluded or until the weapons are no longer needed as evidence. Then the weapons are returned to the abuser.

As we contemplate new gun control reforms like universal background checks, our state’s experience has shown that sensible reforms can work and very likely save lives. I think universal background checks would add an additional tool to keep guns out of abusers’ hands as well as others who should not have them.

At present, domestic violence offenders who are federally prohibited from purchasing guns can avoid a background check by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers, either through online transactions or at gun shows. In 2012, an estimated 6.6 million guns were exchanged in private transfers without any criminal background check.

Private party sales are central to illegal commerce in firearms. It has been estimated that 40% of all firearm transactions occur directly between private parties. A universal background check that applied in all states would be a significant block to illegal commerce in firearms. Universal background checks would be an eminently reasonable crime-fighting reform.

Reducing gun violence in America is a public health issue. Gun policy needs to be based on evidence and clear thinking analysis. In the area of guns and domestic violence, New Hampshire has provided a positive example.