The committee room at the Capitol in Richmond was eerily silent on Jan. 29, save for the sobbing of one woman recounting the story of her sister, mother and nephew being shot to death in a domestic dispute in 2014 in Washington County. Fortunately, her elderly father crawled to safety. The woman speaking, Barbara Harrington, pleaded for the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety to pass a bill, HB 2085, prohibiting those convicted of domestic-abuse crimes from possessing firearms. Del. Michael J. Webert, who represents Rappahannock and parts of Fauquier and Culpeper counties, was on the committee, listening.
Domestic offenses covered in the proposed House bill include physical force, making threats, serial stalking or sexual battery.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence stresses that women are five times likelier to be killed if an abuser owns a firearm. And domestic gun assaults are 12 times likelier to be fatal than bodily assaults or assaults using other weapons. (Harrington’s sister’s estranged husband reportedly had possession of about 50 firearms before wiping out his entire family.)
A representative from the Virginia State Police also asked the committee to pass the proffered domestic-abuse firearms bill to help protect emergency responders and women.
Harrington’s moving testimony and the State Police request were preceded by comments from one “gundamentalist” in the audience who suggested the best solution to domestic violence was to arm victims. Speaking to the audience and committee members, he urged women to avail themselves of one of the “pretty” guns out there.
So get this, victims in domestic disputes should purchase a gun, sleep with one eye open for months on end, waiting for an ex to launch an attack. And if said attack ends in a shootout in front of kids, that’s okay, as long as the woman defends herself.
Really? So the almighty answer to resolving domestic disputes is to be a better shot than your estranged partner?
Perhaps instead of getting on with your life after a contentious breakup — find a job, obtain suitable housing, learn to be a single parent, etc. — you ought spend precious time honing your skills as a sharpshooter?
Ah, but of course members from our esteemed GOP-dominated house committee disagreed that women should engage in gun duels with exes and voted to create a tough new law to keep women and children safer, right?
Nope. Just before the pivotal vote on the domestic-abuse firearms bill, Del. Todd Gilbert (R-15th), who has vocally advocated women arming themselves for gun battles with exes, turned to the rows of anxious females in the audience and said, “You might not believe it. But we’re trying to protect you.”
Then Del. Gilbert, along with Del. Webert and every other committee member present, voted to table HB 2085, essentially killing the bill that would have prohibited domestic-abuse criminals from possessing firearms. Hmm, if some legislators are promoting firefights, why not at least give women the upper hand by making it harder for violent exes to possess weapons?
And if a vote for the domestic-abuse firearms bill encourages couples to slap retaliatory restraining orders on each other, as some legislators fear, making it harder for both people in a volatile relationship to keep weapons — isn’t that a good thing?
After the vote dooming the firearms bill, Barbara Harrington turned, and with a fresh round of sobs, fell into the arms of another domestic-abuse survivor from Chesterfield County. Her name: Lisette Johnson. (Her husband shot her three times in 2009, with children in the home, before shooting himself.) Johnson’s face was smeared with tears, too.
Del. Webert will be up for reelection next fall. When you step into the voting booth, ladies, please remember whose side he was on.