We spend a lot of time talking about stronger gun laws and people who should not have access to guns, but do we ever talk about who these types of people are? According to federal law, they include convicted felons, fugitives from justice, people who have been found by a court to be mentally ill, dishonorable discharges from the military, people who have renounced U.S. citizenship, habitual drug users, illegal immigrants and people who are subject to a restraining order or who have been found guilty of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
People, we all agree, should not have access to guns or rifles to inflict harm on themselves, their community or members of their own family. And that is at the heart of proposed stronger gun laws in Maine and across the nation: protecting us from members of our own family. We in Maine who are on the front lines of domestic abuse, who see every day the harm that is done to women, children and men by partners and parents who claim to love them, are doing everything in our power to protect these folks from the people they love. And that includes making sure they don’t have access to guns.
I have been doing this work a long time, and I am convinced, by experience and research, that the last thing we need when tempers are high and fists are flying are weapons in the mix. That’s why I fought to include domestic abuse in the federal gun control act and why I fight today to strengthen gun laws, require background checks, make gun trafficking a federal crime and limit clips in magazines. Because it is the least we can do for the bodies that have been buried, the lives that have been shattered and the families that have been destroyed.
My colleagues and I, our partners in law enforcement and prosecution, will tell you that situations are more likely to be lethal with guns in the house. Our governor agrees and has appointed a task force to get guns out of the hands of abusers. Women who leave, or announce that they are leaving, run the greatest risk — and very few of them choose to arm themselves, for fear that those guns will be used against them or their children. Women who remain are often forced to become “straw purchasers,” buying weapons for the very abusers who are prevented from having them. This must change, and, with the support of our senators and members of Congress, it will.
Let us all pledge, once again, that there is no excuse for domestic violence. Let us all pledge to do all we can do, in Washington and here in Maine to protect women and children, partners and lovers, from those who would do irreparable harm, and ensure that they cannot buy, use or borrow guns. We grieve those who have died and vow to honor their lives with this pledge. Now, let’s get to work and make it happen. Call or write Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and tell them you want background checks for all gun sales and limits on the number of rounds in ammunition clips. Just because we cannot prevent every tragedy does not mean we should not try. I have spent my life trying and invite you to join me.
Lois Galgay Reckitt is executive director of Family Crisis Services and a member of the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.