Flaws prevalent in taking guns from abusers

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Maine is a trailblazer in domestic violence law. In April 2006, the Legislature included pets under protection from abuse orders, to avoid having helpless animals used to intimidate victims of abuse. It’s a “first in the nation” statute with a laudable goal.

This law applies when the family dog, cat or livestock becomes a tool of domestic violence, no different than any inanimate object. Yet Maine is soft on restricting abusers’ access to other tools – especially guns – which is more necessary to legislate than the rights of household pets.

Richard Reynolds didn’t use a dog to threaten and later allegedly kill his estranged wife, Rhonda Wakefield-Reynolds, in Fairfield earlier this month. Todd Curry didn’t use a cat to terrorize and allegedly execute a brave 13-year-old boy, Andrew Tucker, who was trying to usher his family to safety in Palmyra late last year.

Both these men, with well-documented violent tendencies toward their spouses, used firearms.

It’s easy to explain away why guns remain in the hands of abusers. Judges, with protection-from-abuse orders, can prohibit alleged abusers from possessing firearms. Such orders can come days – or precious hours – after an attack, leaving an ample window for the firearm, if at fingertips’ reach, to be used.

Generally, police said, the guns are entrusted with a family member; police storage of the firearms is considered as a last resort. Storage space concerns were voiced as paramount.

In the Reynolds case, his son, Thomas Benner, was given his father’s guns following an incident of domestic violence in late December. Reynolds demanded a gun back; his son objected, but eventually relinquished, and then handed his father what police say was the murder weapon.

As the Benner example shows, this procedure is deeply flawed. Violating the duty to protect firearms from an alleged abuser should carry a stiff penalty, to which Mr. Benner, regardless of his regret, should be subject. Without his complicity, Wakefield-Reynolds could be alive today.

And waiting for a protection order, in which slow-turning judicial wheels could turn seconds into hours, to remove weapons is unnecessary. The commission of a domestic abuse crime, even if alleged, should result in the seizure and storage, by police, of dangerous weapons, without question.

Half of the murders in Maine are related to domestic violence. Removing the temptation of a firearm is erring on caution’s side.

Domestic violence means inflamed passions. Perhaps it incites the violence; it certainly stems from the anger, resentment and regret that comes in the wake of violence. The Wakefield-Reynolds and Tucker murders have made many – including us – angry.

Benner regrets his action, and said he, too, had an abusive history and was intimidated by his father. “If I tried to do something, who says he wouldn’t have snapped on me?” Benner asked rhetorically, in an interview published Saturday in the Portland Press-Herald.

Perhaps he would have, Mr. Benner. But then, he might not have had a gun, would he?

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