By Paxton Quigley & Dave Kopel
July 9, 1994. More by Kopel on Women and self-defense.
Should Nicole Simpson or Ronald Goldman have carried a gun? There's no guarantee that a handgun would have stopped their knife-wielding attacker. But a pistol in the hands of a trained woman may sometimes offer the only realistic way for a relatively small woman to stop a murderous assault by a man who may outweigh her by a hundred pounds or more.
Handgun Control, Inc., however, believes that the Simpson case is proof of the need for more gun control. Since Mrs. Simpson and Mr. Goldman were murdered with a knife, the gun control lesson is not immediately apparent. But HCI argues that since domestic violence is a major public concern right now, Congress should attach to the pending crime bill a law to bar anyone who is the subject of Restraining Order from ever owning a gun.
Restraining Orders, though, are not criminal convictions. A Restraining Order involves no proof of guilt; accordingly, indigent persons have no right to have an attorney appointed in Restraining Order hearings. A Restraining Order does not require any finding that violence has occurred in the past. Rather, a Restraining Order may be issued on the basis that violence might occur in the future.
Quite often, a judge in a divorce case will find that the ex-husband and ex-wife now loathe each other. With the consent of both parties, the judge will enter a restraining order for each ex-spouse to stay away from the other. In many cases, these orders stay in effect forever.
Under current law, a judge who believes that a person in a domestic dispute might misuse a firearm has the authority to order the person to surrender his guns, and not acquire any more.
The gun prohibitionists, however, want to treat a Restraining Order as the equivalent of a violent felony conviction, making the order a lifetime bar to the possession of any firearm--even when a judge has found no reason to put a permanent gun ban in the Restraining Order.
In the short run, turning Restraining Orders into gun confiscation orders will harm domestic violence enforcement. While many men today voluntarily do not contest proposed Restraining Orders, they would use every legal resource to fight a proposed order if the order meant not only staying away from someone they don't like anyway, but also surrendering their guns to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The resultant legal delays would further clog an already overburdened judicial system.
Second, there really are some men who love their guns more than their ex-wives. After the guns are confiscated, some of these men may become so angry that they seek out and beat up their former spouses.
Law enforcement will also be hampered by an increasing number of false domestic violence claims. Just as false claims of child abuse are now routine in custody battles, false claims of domestic violence will be used against gun collectors by vindictive ex-spouses.
In the long run, more women will be killed. Even after men have been convicted of domestic violence, many women continue to live with them, as Nicole Simpson did after O.J. Simpson's misdemeanor conviction. If the gun prohibition lobby succeeds in taking guns out of such homes, the result will benefit abusive males. Quite often, abused women end up using their abuser's gun to shoot him in lawful self-defense.
Tulane University sociologist James D. Wright explains that in domestic violence shootings, "the more common pattern is for wives to shoot their husbands. Proportionately, men kill their women by other means, more brutal means, more degrading means. To deny the [abused] woman the right to own the firearm is in some sense to guarantee in perpetuity to her husband the right to beat her at will."
When an abused wife grabs her husband's revolver from the bedside table, and, as he is about to inflict another beating that will send her to the hospital, shoots him dead, the gun prohibition lobby calls it "tragic domestic homicide" that was "caused" by a gun. A more accurate description would be legitimate self-defense against a violent predator.
In the last 15 years, the number of women choosing to own guns for self-defense has surged. Men and women are now equally likely to own firearms for protection. Perhaps that is one reason why the domestic homicide rate in the last 15 years has fallen by one-third, from 1.7 per 100,000 population to 1.1.
The gun prohibition lobbies advise crime victims to give the criminals what they want, and to rely on the police for protection, or to get a dog. Reliance on such advice is one of the reasons that Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman are dead. (Nicole Simpson's big Akita did nothing except lead a neighbor to her dead body.)
California law already admits that the police cannot protect every domestic violence victim. Accordingly, the California Penal Code specifies that any person who "reasonably believes" that he or she is "in grave danger because of circumstances forming the basis of a current restraining order issued by a court" may carry a handgun for protection--without need to obtain a special permit from the government.
While the gun prohibition lobbies insist the women should trust the government to protect them, every day more and more women are taking responsibility for protecting themselves. Without delay, every state in the nation should modify its handgun carry laws so that, in a world where the government fails to protect victims, the victims can choose to legally carry their own means of self-protection.
Paxton Quigley is the author of Armed and Female; Dave Kopel is Research Director of the Independence Institute, a think-tank in Denver.