Karen Selick is an attorney and a columnist for Canadian Lawyer. Copyright 2000.
Belleville, Ontario, Canada—Why don’t abused women want to defend themselves?
Three times within the past year, and many times previously, I have been consulted in matrimonial cases by women who have told credible and terrifying stories of violence, stalking, and death threats on the part of their estranged spouses. In each case, it was quite plausible that the woman would someday become a statistic—just another one of the several dozen Canadian women who are murdered each year during the course of separation or divorce proceedings.
We discuss her options. A peace bond. A restraining order. Moving away and changing her name. Settling the case his way. Laying criminal charges. Seeking a firearms prohibition order. I try to give her realistic, practical advice. None of these standard “solutions” will guarantee her safety, and I don’t want a false sense of security to increase her danger.
Peace bonds and restraining orders are just pieces of paper, I point out. Anyone who’s determined to commit murder won’t be deterred by the thought that he’s breaching a restraining order in the process.
Moving away might work sometimes, but not if the case involves children to whom the threatening spouse has court-ordered access. Going underground would violate the court order. Besides, it’s not easy to give up a job, a home, friends, and family.
Give him his way? If you surrender to extortion once, the demands would never end.
Lay criminal charges? She might get a brief respite while he was in jail, but his desire for revenge could make things even worse later.
Get his hunting rifles taken away? That’s like shooting a grizzly bear with a slingshot—it’ll just make him angrier. And if she thinks he won’t know how to buy another gun on the black market, or how to manufacture one in his metal shop, she’s led a very sheltered life. Besides, a knife or a baseball bat can make her just as dead.
This year I finally decided to suggest another option—one so taboo in today’s political climate that I have always hesitated to propose it before, for fear the client would think me insane. I asked my clients whether they would be interested in taking firearms safety training and applying for a permit to carry a gun for self-defense.
It’s not that I believe they’d actually be granted one. My discussions with firearms experts over the years have led me to believe that even though Canadian law provides for such permits, very few are issued. The most likely outcome of such an application would be a test of the law.
However, that quickly became a non-issue, as each of the three women recoiled in alarm at my suggestion. Oh no, they said unanimously, I’d be afraid to own a gun. I’ll just call the police if he shows up.
Right, I thought to myself, just like Doreen Leclair and Corrine McKeowen did. They were the Winnipeg sisters who in February called 911 five times in one night to report that one woman’s former boyfriend was breaching a restraining order. They were found stabbed to death in their home shortly after their last call.
But the failure of police to respond in time to save these two women is hardly a unique occurrence. In a cursory search of the Canadian Press database for 1998 and 1999 alone, I was quickly able to unearth ten other instances, from Kamloops to Sydney, where innocent people had been murdered waiting for police to respond to their frantic 911 calls.
This phenomenon is the subject of Virginia lawyer Richard W. Stevens’s book Dial 911 and Die. (See also his April 2000 article in Ideas on Liberty.) Stevens outlines case after case in which police have been found not liable to citizens (or their estates) for egregious negligence in failing to respond to 911 calls. Yet in many places (including Canada), citizens are also prevented by gun-control laws from taking the most effective remedy available for their own defense: keeping an appropriate firearm and ammunition readily accessible.
And in Canada, as my clients demonstrated, widespread propaganda portraying guns as instruments of unadulterated evil has actually brainwashed potential victims into not even wanting to try to save themselves. They’re just dying to be rescued, I guess.
I’d love to donate copies of Stevens’s book to women’s shelters across the country, together with another book, The Best Defense by Robert A. Waters. Together, these two volumes contain dozens of heart-pounding true stories of ordinary citizens—some elderly, some teenagers, some in wheelchairs, many female—who have saved their own or other people’s lives by being armed with a gun.
Those who campaign for gun control always use the argument that their proposed restrictions on the freedom of law-abiding citizens are worth it even if they save “only one life.” By this reasoning, private gun ownership, with its proven record of saving lives, is unquestionably worth it.