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Sharon Lord and daughter Rachel Elizondo.

The first time I went to my parents’ house after my mother was murdered, my oldest sister wanted to get my father’s guns out of the house. As we loaded gun after gun into the car that had been my mother’s, I could not help but think as I touched each barrel that any one of them could have killed her. That the murder weapons, the clues to her death, had been right in front of us all along.

While everyone’s gut reaction toward anything that even sounds like gun control these days is to shut it down, the topic of domestic violence and firearms is an important conversation to have. Firearms were the cause of death in 73 percent of recorded domestic violence fatalities in 2019 in the state of Georgia. The presence of a gun also increases the risk of homicide for a victim by 500%. These are not statistics that can be ignored.

According to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, Georgia was recently ranked 10th in the nation for its rate of men killing women, meaning it has one of the highest rates of femicide in the country. And it’s no wonder. For the most recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, there were significant holdouts when it came to Georgia’s national lawmakers.

Representatives Buddy Carter [R], Drew Ferguson [R], Rob Woodall [R], Austin Scott [R] (who, it’s worth saying represented my mother before she was murdered and continues to represent my siblings and I), Doug Collins [R], Jody Hice [R], Barry Loudermilk [R], Rick Allen [R], and Tom Graves [R] all voted no (according to GovTrack.us) when the bill was in the House, although it did pass without them. These “no” votes made up a majority of the votes for Georgia’s Representatives, as only five representatives voted “aye” on the bill.

Once the reauthorization of VAWA made it into the Senate, Sen. David Purdue, the only senator for Georgia who is still currently in the Senate, positioned himself as being for the bill, but it is worth noting that he was only for the version of the bill that left out restrictions on firearms, protections for members of the LGBTQ community, and extra protections for indigenous communities who are at a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence.

There is additional cause for concern with the state of Georgia in particular. Although there is a federal law that allows for abusers convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence (18 U.S.C. 922 (g) (9)) to not legally be allowed to have guns, Georgia does not have this law on the books.

Although the federal law is on the books, and amazingly all the states surrounding Georgia have passed a state law that mirrors the federal law (Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida), local judges say that they aren’t authorized to enforce federal law, and law enforcement then says they can’t enforce federal law without a judge’s order.

Additionally, temporary protective orders like the court-ordered one that was supposed to keep my father away from my mother, can also have the abuser turn over their guns as part of the order, too. While I am in the process of getting the full case file from my mother’s murder and the subsequent investigation, I have not received it at the time of this publication. I cannot say for absolute certainty that the temporary protective order did not have this written into it, but I can say with certainty that my father was never required to turn over any guns. He had two handguns in his truck, one that would become the murder weapon, all along.

And while many people might think that this is not that big of a deal, it doesn’t affect that many people, there is also a tie between domestic violence and mass shootings. An analysis of 133 mass shootings in the United States that happened from January of 2009 to July of 2015 found that 57 percent of those shootings included the shooting death of a current or former spouse or partner or an immediate family member. Of those 57 percent, 28 percent also have a prior domestic violence charge.

And I know some of you are still thinking that taking a gun away from an abuser is not the way to solve this problem. You might be thinking, “Why don’t we arm the victims?” To that I’ll say, my mother had a gun. She wasn’t able to use it. She had also told me just that day, that morning before she was murdered, that once she had held a gun on my father. He was beating her with a golf club to the point he broke a rib. She managed to get away and grab a revolver. Still, she couldn’t pull the trigger. Although he was abusive, he was still her husband. He was still the father of her children.

Expecting her to pull that trigger is asking a lot of someone who has already been through so much trauma. There is also evidence to suggest that handgun ownership is correlated to higher homicide rates in women, and examples of the gun being wrestled away by the abuser. And there are cases in the state of Georgia and all over the country of women who have done just what you might be thinking: shot and killed their abuser. But a jury didn’t buy it, and they are sitting in jail right now.

You might also be thinking that an abuser, that someone like my father, would find another way to get a gun, or even kill his victim in another way. And, yes, that’s certainly true in some cases. It might have been true in the case of my parents, but just because we can’t prevent all domestic violence homicides doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to prevent as many as possible.

Rachel Elizondo works with the Southwell Health Care System in Tifton. A former reporter for The Albany Herald, she is a board member and the chairwoman of the Domestic Violence Program Committee for Ruth’s Cottage & the Patticake House in Tifton.

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