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Opinion

SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2016

Regina Malveaux: Extreme risk protection orders are crucial

As CEO of the YWCA of Spokane, my job and my calling is to help empower and advocate for women. At the YWCA, one of our primary areas of focus is domestic violence. We offer shelter, counseling, legal and job readiness services. Just as importantly, we provide a voice and a helping hand for the almost 16,000 women and children served by our agency every year.

As an advocate for women and families, the rhetoric of some opponents of “extreme risk protection orders” is deeply troubling. These orders are a tool that allow family members and law enforcement to prevent gun-related tragedies – suicide, homicide and mass shootings. It will also close a loophole in domestic violence and sexual assault protection orders that allows certain abusers to access firearms while protection orders are in place.

Extreme risk protection orders were introduced in the Washington Legislature this year as HB 2461. Law enforcement officers, survivors of gun violence, gun owners and public health experts testified in favor in February hearings, but the legislation was blocked.

More than 300 Washingtonians will be collecting signatures this weekend to get a similar measure, Initiative 1491, on the ballot this November.

Extreme risk protection orders work by allowing family members, household members and law enforcement to petition a court for a temporary order to remove and prevent the purchase of firearms by people who are experiencing a severe mental health crisis or who have demonstrated violent or threatening behavior.

Petitioners would have to present evidence before a judge, just like the current process for obtaining domestic violence and sexual assault protection orders. The orders would be in effect for a year, but can be extended through annual hearings. There are criminal penalties for breaking an order and for knowingly filing a false petition.

Family members and law enforcement are in the best position to see early warning signs of escalating or violent behavior. More than half of mass shooters and nearly 80 percent of suicide victims show signs of their intentions before taking deadly action. Family members are also the most likely to be hurt or killed when warning signs turn to violence. In fact, 57 percent of mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence.

The data on guns and violence against women are disturbing and totally unacceptable in a civilized nation. American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other developed countries. The presence of a gun in the home makes it five times more likely that a domestic violence situation will become a murder. And every month more than 50 women are killed by a current or former romantic partner.

Access to guns by those deteriorating into mental illness or demonstrating or threatening violence can be the difference between an argument and a funeral.

Smart, responsible gun laws can change these terrible numbers. Unfortunately, gun lobby advocates have opposed solutions like extreme risk protection orders with offensive and damaging language that paints women seeking protection orders as “vindictive petitioners” and worse.

Over the past several months, in official hearings in the state House of Representatives and in newspaper and television interviews, the narrative has become clear. Instead of acknowledging the inherent difficulty and sensitivity of protecting yourself from a loved one, the gun lobby has chosen to paint women as “vindictive” and “angry ex’s.”

This rhetoric would suggest that a woman’s safety, a family’s safety, a community’s safety is simply not worth taking seriously.

These are not offhand comments. This is a pattern of indifference to the safety of victims of domestic violence for the parents and spouses of people suffering a mental health crisis, and for the victims of preventable gun violence. It shows utter disregard for the very people we at the YWCA are working so hard to support.

If a member of my family were in crisis, I would like to have the power to keep them, my family and my community safe. I believe all families deserve to have access to a tool like extreme risk protection orders. I know that this tool can help prevent gun-related tragedies. The women and men who file these orders are not vindictive, they are brave.

Regina Malveaux is CEO of the YWCA of Spokane.




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