My name is Cheryl Robb-Welch, and I am the CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. MOCADSV represents almost every domestic and sexual violence service provider in the state. Thank you to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Del Taylor, for recognizing the gap in the law that continues to threaten the lives of victims of domestic violence, and the people who try to help them.
Like many of you on the committee, in a prior life I was in law enforcement. During my time, I was a 911 dispatcher and then a deputy sheriff.
In research studies conducted by the Violence Policy Center and Everytown, Missouri has been as high as third in the nation per capita to population in gun related homicides of women. Most recently we are ranked 6th.[i] We also know that in almost half the instances of mass shootings the perpetrator also shot an intimate partner or family member. Lastly, as of data posted seven days ago, more than 4 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by their partner.[ii]
People tend to talk about domestic violence as a word without a nuance of meaning, or a phrase for something they don’t want to talk about. Domestic violence is thought of as a single incident, an arrest, or during a court process. There is not enough focus on what it means in the moment to the victims.
Many of you on the committee have past experience in law enforcement and the justice system, and likely have your own memories of responding to a call of domestic violence. I ask you to think back to those calls. For those who may not have, I’d like to share an experience that has stayed with me through the years.
During the end of my law enforcement career I responded to the calls for assistance, but one of my earliest experiences of working with a victim of domestic violence was while dispatching, and being on the phone with someone as they experienced the moment-by-moment fear of death at the hands of their husband.
I worked for a sheriff’s department during a time period when very often there was only one officer on duty at night to cover the entire county. It was late in the night when I took a call from a terrified woman who said her husband had been threatening to kill her, and he was now outside the house with at least one of his guns. Shortly after dispatching officers, she quietly said, “He is in the house.” In the intervening time that it took for officers to arrive, I listened to her panic, and assisted her in locating a hiding spot in an upstairs room, as far from the front door as she could get. We stayed on the phone together as she cried, as she tried to calm her breathing so she could be as quiet as possible. And then she fell silent. She whispered, “He is on the stairs.”
She was fortunate that officers arrived on the scene before he made it to the second floor. In her fear and relief that officers were on the scene she told me she heard him run from the house, and then- she hung up on me. As a dispatcher, I continued to wait anxiously with fear that had now become my own because now I had officers, my friends, who were looking for an armed individual somewhere on the surrounding wooded property.
In reality, the time spent on the entire call and dispatching of the scene was probably no more than an hour. I can tell you that if felt much, much longer. The terror that she conveyed was palpable, and has never left me. That call was a single moment of domestic violence. I hadn’t experienced the fear and violence that led to that incident, to that day. I did share her confidence that he intended to shoot and kill her that night.
The presence of a gun in a home that is under the control of someone who uses violence has an impact on so many. It affects the victim, their children, emergency personnel who have to respond, and advocates who work with victims after the incident. The abusive person’s threats are amplified when a gun is used to frighten, coerce, and threaten everyone in the household.
If we flip the script from, “Why does the victim stay?” and instead ask why does the violent person in the home find it acceptable to, quite literally, routinely put a gun to the head of the person they profess to love and tell them, “This might be the day I kill you. You will never see it coming. But, if you leave me – you should know that I will definitely kill you.” Advocates hear this from victims again, again, and again. They deal personally with the aftermath of hearing that victims have been stalked relentlessly, ambushed and murdered in the parking lots of where they work, murdered in their homes, in their front yards, at their parent’s homes, and in front of their children. The threat of violence is real, and it is constant. The risk of homicide increases exponentially when a gun is allowed to be in the hands of an abusive partner.
The provisions in this bill, and bills like it, occur after an individual has had an opportunity to have a hearing in front of a judge for a full Order of Protection or after a conviction of a class A misdemeanor domestic violence and/or stalking. This is not a random decision to remove someone’s guns. Rather this is a tool for judges when a person’s own violent actions warrant the removal of guns to make their family and community safer.
Victims, and their advocates, have been asking and waiting for more than 40 years for guns to be taken out of the hands of abusive and violent people.
I beg of you to be the ones who finally put victim’s lives first.
[ii] https://everytownresearch.org/issue/domestic-violence/#by-the-numbers, Retrieved 04.26.2023