Violence vs. right to guns

The Baltimore Sun

Mary Crawford's husband fired a rifle at her chest.

Janet Blackburn's sister, niece and two nephews were killed by an abuser.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's cousin was shot to death by her estranged boyfriend.

The three of them - and a dozen police officers, elected officials and domestic violence specialists - testified yesterday in Annapolis about two initiatives that would take firearms out of the hands of suspected abusers.

"These bills do in fact save lives," Brown said. He told lawmakers the story of his cousin, Catherine Brown, a first-grade teacher who was killed last summer at her home days before school was to begin. "Every so often," he said, "our personal lives ... come face to face with the decisions we have to make as elected officials."

The measures, part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative package, deal with protective orders, a civil protection meant to put distance between domestic violence victims and their abusers.

One bill would give judges the discretion to confiscate guns from the subjects of temporary protective orders, which last seven days and can be issued based on only an alleged victim's version of events. State law now does not permit judges to take guns - even if the person seeking a protective order says the accused has access to guns and has threatened to use them.

The other bill would require judges to take guns after a final protective order is granted. Final orders last a year and come after a judge has heard from the accuser and the accused. Under federal law, the subject of such an order cannot possess firearms, but state law leaves it up to judges to order them confiscated. This bill would bring state law in line with the federal regulation, proponents said.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler told lawmakers that the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 has not been followed as closely as it could be, in part because of the lack of a state law. Gansler is a Democrat, as are O'Malley and Brown.

Police officials, including Howard County Chief William J. McMahon and Baltimore County Chief James Johnson, said they support the bills because they would make officers safer, too.

"It's well-documented that responding to domestic violence can be the most dangerous thing police officers do," McMahon said.

Opponents said the bills do not clearly spell out how people can get their guns back after the protective orders expire. More importantly, they objected to the idea of taking away a person's constitutional right to keep and bear arms after a civil procedure that usually considers only one side.

John Josselyn, a vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, called the legislation "feel-good" measures that amount to "an admission that protective orders don't work."

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Republican who represents Frederick and Washington counties and sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee considering the bills, said people intent on harming their partners can use other weapons, such as knives and cars, and that guns shouldn't be singled out.

Brown said the bills would not prevent all domestic violence killings. But he said he was certain they would prevent some.

Last year, 75 of the 500 or so killings across the state were domestic-related. Brown's cousin was one of the victims.

Domestic violence killings, Brown said, "are not the most difficult murders to prevent" because the attacks usually escalate over time. He said about 170 subjects of the state's 7,000 open protective orders are known to have guns.

Mary Crawford, a Carroll County woman, said she was convinced that if a judge had taken away her husband's weapons when she received a protective order, he would not have been able to shoot at her and take one of her children hostage during a fight nine years ago.

Janet Blackburn said her sister, Gail Pumphrey, a Howard County mother, was so terrified of her estranged husband, David Brockdorff, that she carried a picture of his .22-caliber rifle to every court hearing.

Despite a protective order, judges did not take the gun away.

On Thanksgiving Day in 2007, at a park in Frederick County, Brockdorff killed his children, David, 12; Megan, 10; and Brandon, 7; his wife, Pumphrey, 43; and himself.

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