Domestic violence, gender and guns

Tue Aug. 23, 2005 10:57 AM PDT

Via ACSBlog, the North Carolina House and Senate have passed a bill that will require courts to give battered spouses information on how to apply for a concealed weapon when they seek a restraining order.

The president of the gun-rights group that pushed for the measure said it's more about helping victims of domestic violence help themselves.

"We're not interested in them shooting their abusers," said Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina. "We're interested in delivering a message: When police can't protect these people, they are capable of protecting themselves."

The measure becomes law Oct. 1 unless Gov. Mike Easley decides to veto it. His office declined Wednesday to comment on his plans.

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the legislature, would also add protective orders to the evidence a sheriff can consider when determining whether to issue an emergency permit to carry a concealed weapon. Normally, an applicant must wait 90 days for such a permit.

Talk about sending mixed messages. If a battered woman who's been subjected to unspeakable emotional and physical abuse, and even threatened with death, sneaks up on her abusive husband and kills him in his sleep, she commits first degree murder under the law of most states because the act was not spontaneous and she was not faced with imminent bodily harm that would require self-defense. A vague, ever-present threat of death is not enough, as in the case of Shelley Hendrickson which was the subject of an article in Mother Jones this month.

One day in the fall of 1994, he threatened her with a hunting knife. Afterward she hid the knife; Rodney became furious. "He had me up against the wall, choking me, telling me that I better have his knife when he got home from work or he was going to kill me," she says. Shelley pleaded with him to let her leave with the kids, but her words only made him more angry. "None of you are leaving," he said. "I'd rather see you all dead than leave."

Their 11-year-old daughter, Ashley, overheard this argument. After Rodney left the house to go to work, Ashley said something Shelley found very disturbing. "She told me that he would come in and go to the bathroom when she was in the bathtub and watch her," Shelley says.

The following week, on October 29, Shelley drove to Kmart and bought a 12-gauge shotgun.

I am not sure how the situation would have been improved by easy access to a concealed weapon, to be honest.

It's sort of like comparing apples and oranges, but I think there's something to the argument that it's a little unfair that battered woman have no mitigating defense if they murder under conditions of extreme psychological stress, but men who kill in the "heat of passion" are guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of first degree murder. (Women are as well, but the argument is that men primarily use this defense.) Findlaw gives this example:

For example, Dan comes home to find his wife in bed with Victor. In the heat of the moment, Dan picks up a golf club from next to the bed and strikes Victor in the head, killing him instantly.

Another inequity in the law--women tend to kill their spouses with weapons more often which, if a judge applies the sentencing guidelines, can lead to a higher sentence.

Perhaps reforming these aspects of the criminal code would have been a better use of the legislature's resources than encouraging people in volatile situations to buy firearms.

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