While reasonable arguments can be made by both sides about the effectiveness of assault weapon bans and limits on the capacity of gun magazines or whether ownership registries will lead to gun confiscation, you would think that nobody would argue about the sensibleness of laws that mandate taking away firearms from people upon whom courts have imposed orders of protection. But the National Rifle Association does. In a lengthy feature article in Sunday's New York Times
, Michael Luo reported
In statehouses across the country, though, the N.R.A. and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations. They argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction — and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the “mere issuance of court orders.” [...]
[In Washington], where current law gives judges issuing civil protection orders the discretion to require the surrender of firearms if, for example, they find a “serious and imminent threat” to public health. But records and interviews show that they rarely do so, making the state a useful laboratory for examining the consequences, as well as the politics, of this standoff over the limits of Second Amendment rights.
By analyzing a number of Washington databases, The New York Times identified scores of gun-related crimes committed by people subject to recently issued civil protection orders, including murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. In at least five instances over the last decade, women were shot to death less than a month after obtaining protection orders. In at least a half-dozen other killings, the victim was not the person being protected but someone else.
As Luo explains, the Times
calculation, cross-checked against arrest and conviction records, suffered because data are often missing, protective orders have expired or been terminated and no longer can be found in court files. Digging through thousands of court records is tedious work that inevitably misses cases. Bottom line? This form of gun violence happens all the time even when the courts step in because the laws requiring surrender of firearms under orders of protection are not strong enough, subject to judicial laxity or are, in most states, non-existent. The Times
found similar results in some of those no-surrender states as it discovered in Washington. In Minnesota, for instance, in the past three years, more than 30 people under protection orders were convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon.
Luo documents chilling personal stories. There was the woman whose petition for protection stated that husband had stuck a gun in her mouth and threatened to shoot but who did not lose his guns and came armed less than 12 hours later to threaten her again. Cops arrived, the guy gave up and she lived. And there was the woman in Oklahoma who, the day she filed for divorce, also filed a petition for a protection order because he had threatened her several times. She and her family begged the police to collect his small arsenal of guns. She went into hiding for a while. But when she emerged, her husband caught her in a parking lot, shot her several times and then killed himself.
In these cases and others, the NRA has made it risky for legislators to try to pass gun-surrender laws. Since 1994, a federal statute barring those covered by permanent protection orders from possessing firearms has been on the books, but enforcement is up to local authorities. Most of them just don't do it. The Times found fewer than 50 affirmative instances nationwide in 2012.
In Washington, Wisconsin, Virginia and elsewhere, the NRA has worked diligently to ensure that men who have threatened to shoot their spouses or girlfriends, even held them at gunpoint, get to keep their guns because, you know, Second Amendment. How the leaders of this gun-industry mouthpiece can look themselves in the mirror each day knowing that their lobbying efforts have contributed to murders that could have been prevented is a wonderment. And utterly maddening.