Nicholas Mattiello still has a A-plus rating from the NRA, but we wonder for how long. In recent comments, he has supported a bill in the Rhode Island state legislature to take guns away from people who have a history of commiting domestic abuse.
Those in favor of the bill are keen to separate it from wider debates on gun issues. They claim that bills such as this one are primarily about domestic abuse, and not about guns themselves. Yet, since bills such as this definitely have affects on gun owners, they need to be discussed as part of the larger debates on balancing freedom and responsibility.
Many liberals have argued that not allowing people who commit domestic abuse to buy firearms, or to even confiscate weapons already in their hands, is a logical way of reducing the risk for the victims of domestic abuse. Gun rights activists, on their part, see bills like this as merely the latest attempt to erode the constitutional right to bear arms.
In the context of the recent bills, the NRA haas complained that as the bills stand they restrict people on restraining orders from buying guns. In some cases, people under restraining orders have not been to court for the midsdeamours they are accused of. The NRA therefore says that this bill restricts the rights of these people to bear arms.
The situation in Rhode Island, where the newest bill is being debated, is somewhat confusing. Though federal law, through the background checks system, already bars anyone under a restraining order from buying a weapon, there is no state-level law that specifically covers this situation.
In addition, the statistics mentioned in the debate shed light on the dangers of having access to weapons in situations of chronic domestic abuse. The presence of a gun in a domestic abuse situation makes it five times more likely that the woman involved will be killed.
These statistics make for uneasy reading. Whilst I’m extremely reticent to countenance any form of increased gun control, in this situation it seems reasonable that the perpetutors of chronic domestic abuse have reasonable limitations put on their gun rights. Clearly, in a situation where domestic abuce is already violent and ongoing, limiting the means of these people to harm each other seems reasonable.
The problems with the laws proposed are that assessing these situations is almost impossible. Given that most domestic abuse goes unreported, how are law enforcement agencies supposed to know about it? And then again, if it is reported and dealt with, how long will the domestic abuser have to wait before their constitutional rights are restored?
I fear, in short, that laws such as these fail on both counts. That they will not protect the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence, because in these cases such abuse is often unreported, and that secondly they will end up penalising gun owners who have made a one-time mistake.