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Living in fear: Guns

Guest Column
Sunday, October 21, 2018

The following article is part four of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and we hope to educate our community on this very serious issue. One in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978 Last year, HCWC served 2,111 victims of abuse (face-to-face) from Hays and Caldwell Counties. O those, 1,022 were victims of domestic violence.

Often when the subject of home security comes up, the suggestion to purchase a gun is made. The connection between safety and a firearm is a prevailing one in our culture because of the belief that the person with the mightier force wins in a fight. Firearms are, for better or worse, a large part of our culture in America and they are still accepted as a natural piece of the home security puzzle. But what happens when the threat isn’t an intruder but an intimate partner?

According to the Texas Council on Family Violence’s recent report, 146 women were killed by a male intimate partner in Texas in 2016 and of those, 68 percent of perpetrators used a firearm to murder their female partner. Studies have shown that 40-50 percent of women murder victims and 5.9 percent of male murder victims are killed by their intimate partner. That risk increases five-fold when a firearm is present in the household. Firearms can also be used in non-fatal ways to intimidate a victim in order to prevent them from leaving the relationship.

HCWC counselors working directly with family violence victims find that the threat of a firearm being used against the victim, their family, or even the threat of the abuser committing suicide are effective means of intimidating a victim without even brandishing the weapon. The looming threat of a firearm in the household, particularly when it’s been used in an intimidating manner, adds to the already overwhelming pressure that victims feel to keep the abuse they experience a secret.

Counselors often hear from victims about direct threats like “I’m going to shoot you” by holding a gun to them or their pet or toward a room children are in or indirect threats such as, “I just bought a new pistol…imagine how much this would hurt to be shot by” or “if I shot someone out here (living in the country), they’d bleed out before the cops get here.” Children who live in these homes also tell their counselors that they live in fear of those same weapons being used against them.

HCWC’s guiding principle when working with our clients is to trust their judgement on what actions to take. We understand that domestic violence is a complex issue with so many moving parts and that the “right” answer is not always immediately apparent; ensuring our client’s physical safety is our number one priority. Truthfully, when a firearm is present in the household, the tools to help our clients avoid danger are limited and occasionally lead to escalation. Just last winter the San Marcos community was rocked with the death of Officer Kenneth Copeland while he was helping a team serve an arrest warrant for domestic violence.

As with most problems, there is no clear answer for how to handle the intersection of firearms and domestic violence. This past summer, Governor Greg Abbot held a three-day forum to discuss general gun safety and explore options that would hopefully reduce the risks currently present. Many options were discussed at that time and, as the Texas legislative session approaches, it will be interesting to see what ideas make it to a vote and actually pass. The earnest discussion of such a delicate topic is encouraging and will hopefully result in new ways for our clients and local law enforcement to stay safe in the face of danger.

To learn more ways to get involved with HCWC visit our website, www.hcwc.org for opportunities to volunteer, donate or get information on services. You can visit our educational website www.StopTheHurt.org for more educational tools on abuse issues and resources. We also invite the public to attend our upcoming Annual Meeting on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 3039 Ranch Road 12. Our program will consist of agency highlights, award ceremony, nomination of board members and keynote panel of speakers discussing the topic, “Connecting Self-Compassion to the Mission of HCWC.”

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Edith Zeisloft is a data coordinator for the HCWC