By Marian Wright Edelman
My heart was shattered while I was working at 60 Minutes when my only sister was shot and killed by her husband. There was a restraining order that stopped nothing.
“She called me and told me she was worried he was watching her. The next night, April 15th, he invaded the house. Her children, my beautiful 11-year-old niece and 9-year-old nephew, witnessed their mother being shot in the head and in the stomach by their father. The murder was recorded on 911 because my little niece somehow had the strength and courage when her father was threatening her mother to call 911 and say, ‘You need to come right away because someone is going to get shot here.’ My big sister was buried on my 28th birthday.
“My niece could not save her mother’s life, nor could she keep her father in her life. He serves a life sentence in prison in Pennsylvania. My niece lives with memories and loss every day and through every milestone in her life with grace and profound humility. With a deep and abiding faith, she has forgiven her father and given her husband and two sons a life full of faith and hope . . . She lives with the memory of her father pulling the trigger. We all live with how that gun changed our lives forever.
“There are many days when she still aches to be folded in her mother’s arms. There are days when she aches because her sons have never known their grandparents. Some wounds never heal.”
Patti Hassler, the Children’s Defense Fund’s vice president of communications, shared this story of her own family’s heartbreak when a gun changed their lives forever. Pamela Jean Hassler Groff was a beloved sister, daughter, and mother. Now her children have grown up without her and her entire family has been left to wonder what might have been if her husband—still serving his life sentence in prison—had not gotten his hands on a gun.
They are not alone. According to the Department of Justice, in 2010, at least 1,082 women and 267 men were killed by their intimate partners, and 54 percent of these victims were killed with guns. For the past 30 years, more intimate partner homicides have been committed with a gun than with all other weapons combined; more than two-thirds of victims murdered by a spouse or ex-spouse were killed by guns. Anger and jealousy do not last forever, but a gunshot fired in an impulsive rage often does. Easy accessibility to lethal guns makes a fatal difference over and over again.
Pamela Jean Hassler Groff did exactly what she was supposed to when her estranged husband became a threat: she sought and obtained a restraining order. It didn’t make a difference. In fact, in many states people who already have court orders against them because they are considered a danger are never required to surrender their access to firearms because the gun lobby has fought tirelessly in favor of them keeping their guns.
As a recent New York Times article explained: “Advocates for domestic violence victims have long called for stricter laws governing firearms and protective orders. Their argument is rooted in a grim statistic: when women die at the hand of an intimate partner, that hand is more often than not holding a gun. In these most volatile of human dramas, they contend, the right to bear arms must give ground to the need to protect a woman’s life. In statehouses across the country, though, the N.R.A. [National Rifle Association] and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations. They argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction — and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the ‘mere issuance of court orders.’” In order words, gun lobbyists would rather wait for a husband who already has a court order requiring him to stay away from his wife to receive an actual felony conviction—for example, one for murdering his wife—before asking him to stay away from guns.
We can do better. We must do better.
Too many American families have had their lives changed forever by guns because too many Americans have easy, impulsive access to firearms, including hundreds of thousands of Americans who should never be allowed to have them. In too many cases children are witnesses to gun violence that occurs in their families or the children also become victims. We can do better. Over, the July 4th weekend, supporters of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action singed an independence from gun violence pledge to rid the country of weak gun laws that allow this preventable epidemic of gun violence to continue. Now is the time to join thousands of supporters of common sense gun safety laws and demand the right to live free of the fear that your family could be the next to be devastated by gun violence.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.