I wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper today. It supports an initiative on the ballot this year that would extend background checks on gun sales in Washington State. I wrote about what a sensible measure this is and how it would save lives. I wrote about how, as a public health professional, I was committed to vulnerable populations, and had spent my career trying to improve their health status. I pointed out that states with similar background check laws reduce the rate of murder-by-intimate-partner by 38 percent. I said I supported this bill and hoped my neighbors would, too.
What I didn’t say was that one night when I was in my twenties my sister stood in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, with a shotgun pointed at her head. I didn’t say how my mother, who lived across the street, heard the yelling and flew out her front door. She might have seemed comical in any other context – hair on end, flannel nightgown a little too short, flip flops on her feet. But she was not comical. She was fierce and unhesitating. I didn’t describe how she ran between my sister and her husband, who was holding the gun on her. I didn’t say how my mother pointed a finger at him and said, “Put that thing away!” and then, turning her back on the gun-holding son-in-law, embraced my sister. I didn’t tell how my mother guided my hysterical sister back into my parents’ house and closed the door quietly, leaving a man standing alone in the street with a shotgun in his hands.
I didn’t recount in that letter to the editor how I felt knowing I could have lost my mother and my sister in a single moment to a drunken man with a gun.
I did not point out that reducing the murder rate by 38 percent means that many more women who:
• live to raise their children,
• see another day,
• have a chance to leave their violent partners
Background checks seem a tiny price to pay for the lives of women who might otherwise have been murdered. It seems a supremely reasonable measure to keep guns out of the hands of people who would let their uncontrolled emotions rob children of their mothers, women of their sisters, grandmothers of their daughters. In the U.S. we lose three women every day to domestic violence deaths. If background checks saved one woman a day, it would seem a great bargain indeed.
Perhaps I should have said all that in my letter to the editor. For now, I am saying it here.