The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is not the only federal domestic violence law based on false premises. In 1994 and 1996 Congress enacted gun control laws prohibiting any person who is subject to a domestic violence protective order from owning any guns or ammunition. The trouble is, state courts routinely issue boilerplate protective orders in divorce and child custody cases. Either or both parties may seek a protective order, and courts often issue “mutual” orders applying to both parties.
These orders generally are intended to maintain the status quo, stating in essence, “Don’t clean out the bank account, and don’t sell the house.” But many also include, somewhere in the fine print, a catchall prohibition against violence or threats of violence.
The fine print can make anybody a federal felon at the stroke of a pen. It happened to Dr. Timothy Emerson in Texas when he agreed to a routine protective order as part of his divorce case. Even though there was no evidence he had committed or threatened any violence whatsoever, Dr. Emerson suddenly found himself charged with a federal felony (and facing up to ten years in prison) for possessing firearms while subject to a protective order.
This federal law, like VAWA, is based on ignorance, non-facts, and wishful thinking about the power of the federal government to curb violence between intimate partners. It is bad enough that this law makes felons of otherwise law-abiding citizens, merely because they are involved in civil family law cases. What is worse, the law ignores the reality of intimate violence.
Contrary to the beliefs of VAWA proponents, domestic violence is not merely a matter of men beating up women. In fact, about half the incidents of domestic violence involve both parties. In the real world, women are just as likely as men to become subject to protective orders that would deprive them of the right to own a gun. Their remedy in case of attack is to dial 911 — and pray that help arrives in time. This federal law, like VAWA, is apt to hurt, rather than help, women involved in dangerous relationships.
In fact, millions of people, including about 30 percent of women, own a gun. Most of those women report they do so solely for the purpose of self-protection. Recent studies by Prof. John Lott (Yale Law) and others demonstrate that the incidence of violent crime, especially rape, decreases dramatically in areas where more individuals own and carry guns. Other studies estimate that in about 1.5 million to 2.5 million incidents per year, potential crime victims are able to avoid robbery, injury, or death by using (or just showing) a firearm.
The Independent Women’s Forum filed an amicus brief in Dr. Emerson’s appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. We argued that the right of self-defense is fundamental, and thus law-abiding citizens should not be deprived of their legal right to possess defensive weapons without due process and credible evidence of threats or violence. Women especially, who are usually smaller and weaker than their attackers, ought to be allowed, if they choose, to use more than a telephone to protect themselves and their loved ones.