We spend a lot of time talking about stronger gun laws and people who should not have access to guns. But we rarely stop to consider, specifically, who these people are.
Under 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, people who are subject to a restraining order and those who have been found guilty of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
We all agree that certain people should not have access to guns or rifles to inflict harm on themselves, their communities or members of their own family. That principle is at the heart of stronger gun laws that have been proposed in Maine and across the nation. Often, it comes down to 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 is a weapon 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 and make gun trafficking a federal crime. That’s 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, along with 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 an abusive relationship, 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 for those who have died and vow to honor their lives with this pledge. Now, let’s get to work and make it happen, lobbying our representatives in Congress to support background checks for all gun sales.
Just because we cannot prevent every tragedy does not mean that we should not try. I have spent my life trying, and I invite all to join me.
Lois Galgay Reckitt is executive director of Family Crisis Services, which is based in Portland.