Judges already have tools to keep guns from abusers

[Editor's Note: The following op-ed was recently published in the Columbus Dispatch, opposite an anti-gun rights column entitled "A gun increases the chances the victim will die." Both columns were written in response to a question posed by the Dispatch: "Should Congress pass a law to keep guns from domestic abusers?". Judging by this editorial entitled "Lethal mix of guns and dompestic violence requiers legislative action," the editors of the Cleveland Plain Dealer could also stand to read it.]

Recently, Everytown for Gun Safety published a report in support of new gun-control laws subtitled “America’s Uniquely Lethal Domestic Violence Problem.” (Not) Coincidentally, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Center for American Progress, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and multitudes of local domestic-violence groups joined in the demands for Congress and the states “to do something” about domestic-violence offenders having easy access to firearms.

The public-relations campaign launching this report got off to a spectacularly bad start when ABC television’s The View screened a commercial supporting Everytown’s study. The commercial dramatically depicts a man breaking into the home of a completely helpless, hysterical woman, grabbing her child and then shooting the woman.

Rather than moving on to discuss how important it is for Congress and the states to adopt the report’s proposals, three of the four female hosts of The View, none with a history of supporting gun rights, shared their own personal experiences with stalkers and opined that they wished they had a gun when their personal confrontations occurred.

I was astounded when these television hosts publicly shared these views, but perhaps I should not be.

Since 2004, the year Congress chose not to renew the federal semi-automatic rifle ban, gun-control proposals are increasingly met with little enthusiasm. It is not for lack of emotional commercials, pleas from parents, bus caravans to Washington, D.C. and slick, well-funded PR efforts. Rather, the lack of support comes from the current American electorate experiencing 20-plus years of failed gun-control laws.

Women are our mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, beloved school teachers, etc. No one wants to see them killed by abusive partners. This does not mean, however, that voters have to accept proposals that do nothing to address the stated problem. It is perfectly reasonable for voters to look back on the past failed promises of gun-control proposals and conclude that words on a piece of paper (protection order, a new firearm-prohibition law, more background checks) will not be effective.

The first rule in a government of specific, limited, enumerated powers is that all laws should have a demonstrated effect outweighing the burden placed on the liberty of society as a whole.

Turning to the proposals contained in the coordinated reports, we see a multitude of proposals that already are law, or are continuations of the myths fronted by gun-control groups for decades.

The biggest fallacy within these proposals is that domestic-violence offenders are somehow able to lawfully purchase or possess firearms. They cannot; they already are under firearm prohibitions. The Supreme Court of the United States recently affirmed that this prohibition can include even threatening force against an intimate partner. Stalkers? Persons subject to a protection order? Yes, all currently subject to firearm prohibitions.

Another fallacy advanced is that current law does not give police, prosecutors and judges “the tools” required to order these people to surrender their firearms. Judges have absolute power, through terms of bail, bond, protection orders, probation and sentencing, to order surrender of all firearms under current law. There is even a checkbox on our standard protection-order form where the judge ticks a box to have the police seize guns from the accused.

Finally, no gun-control group study would be complete without calling for universal background checks. The “statistic” often cited by proponents is that 40 percent of gun transactions happen between private parties without a background check. This assertion persists despite being debunked (http://wapo.st/1f8p7XQ). Colorado is the latest state to experiment with universal background checks, and in 2013, the first full year of the new law, less than 4 percent of all gun transactions (13,600) were conducted through private individuals. And it should be noted that universal background checks do nothing to stop a key source of firearms used by criminals: theft. In 2012, 2,575 guns were stolen in Colorado. Background checks do nothing to stop the trade in and use of stolen firearms by criminals, including the criminals who perpetrate domestic violence.

Perhaps the easiest way to debunk the latest push from Everytown for Gun Safety is to simply look at page 4 of its own report. In interviews of women living in California domestic-violence shelters, two-thirds of the battered women living in a household with a gun reported that their partner used the gun against them.

Yet page 12 of the same report gives California perfect marks for already having all of the laws these groups are calling for. Am I the only one confused? If California already passed these laws yet still experiences the same domestic-violence problems, why should we expect different results in the other 49 states?

Ken Hanson is a Delaware, Ohio, attorney active in gun-rights legislation, litigation and lobbying.

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