In order to get a restraining order against my ex-boyfriend, I had to prove three things: that he’d physically threatened me, that I was afraid of him, and that he had the means to carry out his threats. Thankfully I didn’t live in a state with a “boyfriend loophole,” a 20-year old law that allows people convicted of domestic violence to still purchase guns as long as they aren’t married to or living with the person they abused.
According to my three-year protective order, my ex wasn’t supposed to possess or purchase a gun. The only problem was that they had absolutely no way of — or interest in — enforcing this aspect of the judge’s ruling. We were both under oath when we testified. I said, “He has a gun. He showed it to me,” and he said, “No, I don’t.”
And that was that.
I asked two of my older brothers — both of whom work in law enforcement — what I should do. This seemed pretty straightforward to me: This was a man convicted of domestic violence, who was legally forbidden from owning a gun. And here he was, owning a gun. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that straightforward. The only way the police could “do anything” was if he used the gun to threaten me after I already had the protective order in place. This was their advice instead: Go buy your own gun.
That was five years ago. The restraining order expired, I got married, and we moved hundreds of miles away. But I still find myself awake in bed, wondering whether this will finally be the night my ex decides to make good on his promise to kill me. It angers me that I not only have to live with this fear, but that the only defense afforded me by our legal system is to arm myself in return.
A couple weeks ago, I told my husband I wanted to buy a gun. This led to the first conversation in our marriage where we were diametrically opposed in a discussion that took days to reconcile. He felt like buying a gun was giving in to fear and participating in a broken self-perpetuating system of irresponsibility and violence. I didn’t disagree. But I also missed sleeping at night.
Between lunch and dinner on the following Saturday, we became gun owners. It took more time for us to drive across town to the gun store than it did for me to actually buy the gun itself. Sure, they did a quick background check. I gave them my driver’s license, hit a few toggles on an iPad to self-report whether I’d ever been convicted of domestic violence or was “a fugitive from justice,” then I was good to go: Here’s your receipt, hope you don’t use this to kill another human being.
It should not be that easy to move from “I want a gun” to “I own a gun,” and trusting someone to answer yes or no questions about whether they’ve been convicted of a particular crime isn’t going to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who want to commit violence.
When we tell women that their best defense against a man who wants to hurt them is to buy their own gun, we not only fail these women, but we also place the rest of our population in danger. This is not a mental health issue or a lone wolf scenario or any other soundbite designed to dismiss the very real crisis affecting our country. The correlation of mass shooters to domestic violence is undeniable, but beyond those sobering statistics there’s still a wide chasm between the number of men who hurt women and the number of women who’ve managed to jump through the hoops of pressing charges or receiving a restraining order.
As someone who’s been through the difficult process of seeking protection against an abuser, as well as the remarkably simple process of obtaining a gun, I can only conclude that our country has woefully skewed priorities regarding the safety of its citizens. Every vote and comment in opposition of tightening gun regulations is a loud and clear message that our government does not care if we are safe, they don’t care if we are afraid, and they don’t care that going to a movie, a concert, or a church on Sunday morning has become an invitation for violence.
Until we make it easier for victims to seek help, and harder for everyone to get access to guns, nothing will change and innocent people will continue to bear the burden of this broken system.