Where there’s a will there’s a way

Like so many recent episodes of gun violence, the rampage in Santa Barbara raised the familiar questions: Could the violence have been prevented? Could we have seen this coming?

National conversation about how misogyny fuels gun violence is new, but the story line is old. It is echoed in the majority of mass shootings that involve domestic violence. Start with a man who feels he is entitled to attention, sex, or loyalty from a woman. He feels victimized and then enraged when he doesn’t get it. Easy access to guns makes that rage deadly.

Discussion about whether better mental health intervention could have prevented the Santa Barbara killings were still fresh when a shooting at Seattle Pacific University prompted the same questions. Last week, Seattleites faced an unprecedented choice between a vigil for victims at SPU and another on the same night, this time asking whether homophobia fueled the murder of two young men.

Experts and pundits differ on how to read warning signs. But the consensus seems to be if we somehow could see the danger in advance, we would act to stop it. Of course dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, the story goes, but we can’t tell who is dangerous until it’s too late. If we could, we would intervene.

Baloney.

Right now, all over the country, courts and law enforcement have specific information about thousands of people who pose a serious threat of violence. What’s more, courts have heard evidence and issued orders that make it illegal for these people to have guns. Often, the court has specific information that the dangerous person owns a specific gun, and has threatened to kill someone with it. So what happens to get illegal guns away from these known dangerous people, after all the dots have been connected? Next to nothing.

It is illegal under federal law for an abuser served with a Domestic Violence Protection Order to have a firearm. With few exceptions, the law is simply not enforced. Among the victims of domestic violence murders studied by the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, a handful had Protection Orders in place because the abuser had threatened murder or suicide with a gun. Courts and law enforcement did nothing to actually get those guns out of dangerous hands. Out of the thousands of victims who petition for Protection Orders in Washington each year, only a tiny minority even ask the court to take away the abuser’s guns. That’s not because the rest aren’t afraid. It’s because they know it’s useless to ask.

Ironically, California lawmakers are looking to Domestic Violence Protection Orders as a model for a new “gun violence restraining order” that would allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who have been identified as dangerous. But one thing we have learned from efforts to disarm abusers is that these laws don’t enforce themselves. Getting results takes coordination, political will, commitment at every level, and (of course) money.

The good news: it works. One California county hasn’t had a domestic violence murder since they put an aggressive plan in place to take guns out of the equation.

In the wake of a mass shooting, consensus that we need to do something is easy to come by. But the long uphill battle to use the tools we already have in place tells a different story. If we put what we know into practice, then strategies for preventing domestic violence murders can be a model for stopping the violence that shares so many of the same roots. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to get it rolling.

Improving effectiveness of domestic violence protection orders and safety for victims

This afternoon, Governor Inslee will sign ESHB1840 (concerning firearms laws for persons subject to no-contact orders, protection orders, and restraining orders) into law. We issued the following press release after it unanimously passed the Washington State Legislature.

Last night the Senate approved ESHB1840, a bill that prohibits domestic violence abusers with protection orders against them from possessing a firearm, with a   49-0 vote. The bill unanimously passed the House last month, sending a strong message from the legislature that they support victim safety and recognize the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers legally deemed too dangerous to have them.

Abusers’ access to firearms increases the lethality of domestic violence and makes it more dangerous for friends, family, and law enforcement to safely intervene. “Domestic violence is about control; the abuser controlling the victim’s life,” said Grace Huang, Public Policy Coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “For some victims, getting a protection order is the first step in taking their lives back. And that’s threatening to the abuser and where we often see guns come into play.”

A national research study found that a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed when there’s a gun around. In Washington State, guns are by far the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides—more than all other weapons combined.

“When a victim gets a protection order and is separating from an abuser, the violence can escalate. Removing firearms at this point is critical for victim safety,” said Huang. “We thank the legislature for furthering the protections of domestic violence victims in this important way.”

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Researchers observing people’s behavior in bars found no relationship between men’s aggressiveness and their level of intoxication. Instead, they found that men were targeting women who were intoxicated.

One of my favorite websites—Scarleteen: Sex ed for the real world—isn’t making enough money to stay afloat. So they’re going on strike. Wait, how do you go on strike if you’re self-empl0yed?

It’s been a big week in our state legislature, with much to celebrate and much to stress about. In the good news category ESHB 1840—which prohibits abusers with a Protection Order against them from possessing a firearm—passed unanimously! This is an important step in making these orders more effective for survivors of abuse. But survivors also need housing to be safe and stable. Thanks to Senator Steve Hobbs for sharing with the Seattle Times how funding cuts to housing will have a devastating impact on survivors.

Another thing survivors of abuse need to be safe and stable? Food, diapers, toothpaste. Now who would possibly take issue with that? Jon Stewart will tell—or rather show—you.

Really America—this again?

It’s State Legislative Session season! While we are working here in Washington to strengthen Protection Orders and secure paid sick and safe leave, others are dealing with something entirely different: Bills that codify discrimination. From Arizona to Georgia to Missouri, states are introducing legislation that would allow businesses and employees to refuse goods and services to those they feel live contrary to their religious beliefs.capitol-building

My dear home state of Georgia is trying to pass a bill with one of the broadest scopes of any of its counterparts. It could not only mean state sanctioned discrimination for the LGBTQ community, but also that women would have a tougher time accessing contraceptives and other family planning services.

Growing up in the South, even 20 years after Jim Crow laws, the lasting effect of these laws was palpable. I can still see today how the rhetoric and treatment of African Americans during that time influences my parents (and many others). Wasn’t that a lesson learned, America? Can we take a moment to reflect on how discrimination breeds hate and violence, and then choose to not go there again?

But what about religious freedoms? After all, the justification behind most of these bills is an outcry about religious liberties being infringed upon. Freedom of religion is an extremely important value to protect. But I don’t buy the argument that it justifies denying someone else their rights or basic dignity. Rev. Emily C. Heath outlines how we can determine if our religious liberties are actually at stake.

To me, these bills feel like a call for superiority for a particular group—not freedom. The messages they send, if they become law, will seep into our communities. Harmful messages about LGBTQ individuals, women, and any other group that might face discrimination because of them. They will worm their way into our lives and our relationships eating away at love, respect, and understanding. It’s one (bad) thing when our lives are invalidated and demonized by individuals. It’s another (even worse) thing when our government says that they think that discriminatory behavior is totally cool.

Love, respect, understanding. These are the things that will strengthen our relationships and dissolve violence. Part of me becomes deflated when I think about these discriminatory bills, but a bigger part of me is actually hopeful. I think they are an indicator of change and are the growing pains that happen before something beautiful emerges.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • I’ve gone through an intense range of emotions this week watching coverage of the guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape. I’ve landed on a feeling of hope after reading Magda Pecsenye’s “A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape.”
  • Do you need another reason to love Project Runway’s Tim Gunn? He’s helping to launch the international No More campaign, raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Karin White with the YWCA of Pierce County reflects on how domestic violence homicides have impacted her community, and shares her hopes for a better future.