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Should Domestic Abuse Victims in MA Have Easier Access to Guns?

Thursday, April 17, 2014


As the domestic abuse bill heads to the Senate after unanimously being passed by the House in Massachusetts, one amendment to the bill pushed by the Gun Owner’s Action League (GOAL) was left off: easier access to guns for domestic abuse victims.

This amendment that GOAL hoped would be added to the bill would allow for domestic abuse victims to obtain an unrestricted firearms license free of charge, provided they took the proper training programs and passed all background tests. 

“A license to carry a firearm in the state of Massachusetts is a $100 fee,” said Jim Wallace, the Executive Director of GOAL. “Anyone under protection for a domestic abuse case would be able to apply for an unrestricted license free of charge. Each person who applied would still be subjected to a full background check and the same process that anyone else would, but if they qualified for the license to carry then their fee would be waived and they would be granted an unrestricted license.”

With 4,542 cases of domestic violence brought forward in Worcester County alone from January 1, 2013 to April 16, 2014, these cases are surely an issue. Stemming from Jared Remy’s alleged murder of Jennifer Martel, the domestic abuse bill outlined stiffer penalties for abusers and would make strangling someone a felony as well as educate judges and prosecutors about the cycles of abuse. Increased ease of access to pepper spray was also included in the bill.

A Good Defense Against Assailants

The argument for allowing domestic abuse victims to have access to an unrestricted firearms license is simple: to give these victims better opportunities to both defend themselves and feel safer. 

One of Wallace’s main issues with current gun control legislation is that even if a domestic abuse victim is granted a license it is often restricted, which limits the victims in terms of how they are able to carry their firearm.

“One problem that we are currently have facing us in cities is that they are issuing restricted licenses which does not allow for someone to carry a loaded and concealed weapon,” said Wallace. “Victims should have a right to protect themselves and a firearm often affords these victims that protection.”

Guns may offer victims a sense of protection and security, but could a gun offer a sense of over-empowerment to the victim that could cause them to harm their assailant? When asked if he thought that a gun could become a tool for retaliation, Wallace stated that retaliation couldn't’t be further from the truth.

“I’ve never heard of any cases where domestic abuse victims used a gun as a form of retaliation,” said Wallace. “I suppose if you really dug around you could find a case, but I haven’t heard of one yet. Many domestic abuse victims want to stay as far away from their attackers so I don’t see retaliation as an issue.”

The license to carry amendment may not have been included in the current domestic abuse bill, but Wallace is still upbeat because it could be attached to a new gun bill that will be proposed later in the year. He is also optimistic about the pepper spray amendment, which would eliminate the need for getting a firearm identification card prior to buying pepper spray, making it legal for anyone over 18 to purchase some. 

It may not be a firearm, but Wallace is happy nonetheless. Although he doesn’t believe that pepper spray is the best defense mechanism, it is one more tool that abuse victims could have readily available to defend themselves. 

“I don’t know if you can call pepper spray an adequate defense mechanism, but we have been fighting for the past 15 years for easier licensing of pepper spray,” said Wallace. “If we don’t get these victims the proper tools to defend themselves, then the rest of the bill will be a hollow shell. Hopefully in the future, more women will be able to look forward to an Easter or Thanksgiving dinner than a funeral.”

Are Guns Needed?

Jane Doe Inc. – also known as the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence – is still combing through the recently passed domestic abuse bill so that they can offer their input and determine their stance on the various laws that could be put into place. 

One piece of the proposed bill that Jane Doe Inc. already appreciates is the amendment proposing eased access to purchasing of pepper spray. When asked about the license to carry amendment that was dropped from the bill, Toni Troop, the Director of Communications at Jane Doe Inc. admitted that there was no place for it the domestic abuse bill. 

“Not only do I believe that making guns easier to purchase wouldn’t be helpful, but I also believe that it would be potentially dangerous,” said Troop. “The bottom line is that gun control policies need to be stricter. Evidence shows that bringing a firearm into a situation dramatically increases the likelihood of an injury or even death.”

Instead of offering easier access to guns, Troop points out that other solutions are more proactive in lessening domestic abuse cases. Instead of looking for solutions after the abuse has taken place, better prevention methods need to be put in place. 

“What we need to recognize about making guns or pepper spray easier to purchase is that oftentimes the assailant is a person that the victim knows or may even live with,” said Troop. “There are smarter and more effective ways to hold people accountable. Prevention requires education, training, advocating for equality, evaluating social norms and more.”

As an organization that works with many domestic abuse victims, Jane Doe Inc. has noticed that even the victims themselves are not actively seeking firearms as a means of protection. Instead they are looking for much simpler things.

“We work with a lot of survivors of domestic abuse so that they can build on their assets,” said Troop. “They are not looking for pepper spray or guns, they are looking for safe houses and jobs; that’s what survivors of abuse want. Nothing is more important than helping these victims heal and regain their independence. Giving them access to firearms isn’t really a helpful way to achieve that.”

Other Defense Mechanisms

While the debate rages as to whether or not domestic violence victims should be offered a chance at a free and unrestricted gun license, other tools to protect these victims have been advocated for and were included in the recently passed bill. 

Republican House Representative Kimberly Ferguson is one of the many who has been advocating for easier access to pepper spray, which could be used as a defense mechanism for domestic abuse victims to get away from their assailants. 

“I have been hearing from many victims who have concerns that when they feel that they are in danger, there is no easy access to purchasing pepper spray,” said Ferguson. “If you have someone who feels threatened by an attacker, giving them a tool like pepper spray gives them a chance to run away or fight back.”

Ferguson originally wanted the pepper spray legislation to be its own bill, but is fine with it being included in the domestic abuse bill because it still helps victims in need of protection. Easier access to pepper spray is just one small step forward in creating a society with no domestic abuse victims. 

While a supporter of increased access to pepper spray, Ferguson stated that increased access to guns is a whole separate issue. Ferguson is a supporter of Second Amendment rights but doesn’t feel like easy access to guns for domestic abuse victims is a constructive line of defense. 

“I treat the second amendment as a whole different issue,” said Ferguson. “If someone wants to go through the process of getting a license and protecting themselves that way then the option is there, but I don’t necessarily agree with just handing people guns.”


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