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Why it's so hard to keep guns out of abusive households

Richard D’Alauro is the National Rifle Association’s field representative in New York City and surrounding suburbs, and he kept dozens of different firearms
An American manufactured AR-15 Assault Rifle (Photo by Judi Bottoni/AP Photo, File)
An American manufactured AR-15 Assault Rifle

Richard D’Alauro is the National Rifle Association’s field representative in New York City and surrounding suburbs, and he kept dozens of different firearms of all kinds at his Long Island home. But in 2010, after he was charged in a domestic violence dispute, police confiscated more than 39 pistols, shotgun and rifles from his East Newport home.

His wife, Maribeth D’Alauro, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and walks with a cane, divorced him after the incident. She later told the New York Daily News he was a “bully” who had subjected her to “years of domestic violence.”

He was originally charged with misdemeanor offenses including assault and endangering the welfare of a child along with the noncriminal charge of harassment. On October 3, Richard D’Alauro pled guilty only to noncriminal harassment, admitting in court that he had intended to “harass, annoy or alarm” his then-wife “by subjecting her to physical contact.”

A judge extended an order of protection against him for exactly one more year, continuing to bar him from legally possessing or purchasing firearms. But because he was not charged with a misdemeanor, the order will expire later this year. On October 3, 2013 police will be required to return all his firearms, and he will be able to buy new ones as well.

The prospect of her former husband re-arming himself scares Maribeth D’Alauro, and she is hardly alone. Firearms are the most frequently used weapons in intimate partner homicides, according to a study by the Violence Policy Center. More than half of all women murdered in America are killed by their intimate partners; a firearm is the cause of death about half the time, according to federal statistics cited by The New York Times.

Yet, due largely to the gun lobby’s efforts, few states have laws allowing authorities to confiscate the firearms owned by individuals under a restraining order, even when the order is permanent.

The gun lobby’s public position is that criminals who use guns should face tough penalties. “We want criminals with guns prosecuted and incarcerated,” National Rifle Association chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre said last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We want the federal gun laws on the books right now enforced against felons with guns, drug dealers with guns, and gangs with guns. If they’d just do that,” he went on, referring to federal authorities, “those violent criminals wouldn’t be on their way to their next crime.”

But criminals convicted of domestic or intimate partner violence are rarely if ever mentioned by LaPierre or other gun lobby leaders. Instead the NRA has a “Refuse to Be a Victim Program” where it teaches women how to use firearms to defend themselves against attacks by strangers. Or, as LaPierre also told CPAC, “The one thing a violent rapist deserves to face is a good woman with a gun.”

However, studies consistently show that women are more likely to be murdered or raped by their intimate partners or other people they know. Self-described women’s rights advocate Gayle Trotter sidestepped such facts in her Senate testimony in January. She claimed that gun control was inherently sexist and that a woman might need a weapon like an AR-15 rifle to defend herself and her family. The Independent Women’s Forum is a Washington, D.C.-based organization operating through a virtual office at 1875 I Street, N.W., Suite 500, sharing the same physical address with dozens of small businesses and independent professionals.

IWF, recently wrote the Times editorial page, is “a right-wing policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women.”

One lengthy position paper on the IWF website addresses domestic violence. The paper was written in 2005, and it is the most up-to-date research or post on the matter on IWF’s website (apart from a post last year on how domestic violence is overlooked in Armenia). The paper addressing domestic violence in this country makes no mention of firearms at all, and one of the same paper’s conclusions is to allegedly debunk the notion that domestic violence is perpetrated almost exclusively by men and to assert that female aggression against intimate partners is also common.

“The study did not deal with how domestic violence is carried out, but its root causes,” said Christina Villegas, an IWF visiting fellow on behalf of the group.

The views of such groups are echoed among gun rights activists online. Like IWF, they often redirect the argument away from the link between guns and domestic violence.

“Lib logic: Bad idea 4 women 2b armed against rapists, but good idea 2 arm Muslim Brotherhood 2 rape women! #CTOT,” recently tweeted @walt1999walt from Jacksonville, Florida, ending it with the hashtag for Conservative Talkers on Twitter.

Read more about how restraining orders often don't require guns to be surrendered.