By MICHAEL FROST
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 19, 2009)—Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown urged lawmakers Thursday to require that judges remove guns from individuals facing final protective orders.
Brown said the goal was "to take guns—all guns—out of the hands of domestic abusers."
To do so, he advocated passage of two bills co-sponsored by the administration that would require the seizure of guns for final protective orders and grant judges the discretion to remove them for temporary ones.
The bills were heard before the House Judiciary Committee, which failed to pass similar legislation last year. Brown also testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week.
Brown's cousin was killed last year by an estranged boyfriend who waited for her to come home. He said these bills weren't going to bring his cousin, who hadn't filed for a protective order, or any of the other victims of domestic abusers back to life, but they could help prevent future deaths.
"Would they have saved more than one of those lives that were taken last year? You bet these bills would have," he said.
According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 42 of the 75 domestic-violence related deaths in Maryland between July 2007 and July 2008 were caused by guns. The figures included 17 suicide victims "who killed themselves after committing domestic violence murder, attempting to commit murder, or committing assault."
Mary Crawford testified that she had almost been shot to death by her ex-husband while he was under a protective order. She said that she felt one bullet go through her hair, and that another went right underneath her arm.
"If this law would protect one life, then you know it's worth it to me," she said.
Other relatives of victims also testified on behalf of the bill.
Janet Blackburn explained how her sister, Gail Pumphrey, carried a picture of her estranged husband's gun with her to every court hearing as she sought a protective order and then a divorce. On November 22, 2007, Pumphrey and her three children were shot to death in Montgomery County by her former husband before he turned the gun on himself, she said.
Blackburn said that people who had been issued a final protective order had already been determined to be violent, and should never be allowed to possess a firearm of any kind. She said that judges should not be burdened with such a decision.
"How can we expect our judges, who do not personally know these people, to make this call?" she said.
Stacy Mayer, deputy legislative officer for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said that individuals under final protective orders were already prohibited from possessing firearms under state and federal laws, and that the bill would merely require judges to do what they should be doing already.
While most of the testimony was in favor of the bills, concerns were expressed regarding how they would apply to law enforcement officials and how the firearms would be stored and returned.
Members of gun clubs and gun's rights advocacy groups expressed opposition to the bills.
E. Jane Garrison-Weaver, speaking on behalf of the Second Amendment Sisters of Maryland, was concerned about any ban that was not based on the facts of each case.
"We're very concerned that the rights of the individual are completely removed by these bills," she said.
Brown said that he had been talking extensively with legislators to determine the nature of the opposition, and that few of the concerns he had heard were "showstoppers."
He added that the bill was merely a first step, and that eventually other measures should be taken as well, including expanding funding and support for crisis centers and counseling and education programs that would serve to "de-stigmatize" domestic violence.
Brown said that while the money was simply not available for expanding those programs at the moment, enacting these two bills could do more to reduce the homicide rate "perhaps than anything else we could possibly do."
"We know who the victims are. We know who the abusers are. We know when they have guns involved," Brown said. "You take them away, and your number of homicides goes down."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.