Violence

03.19.13

Guns in the Home: Not as Safe as You'd Think

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Last night, I tweeted a link to this bizarre shooting story, out of Alaska:

A double amputee shot a Walmart manager Saturday after he was asked to put his service dog on a leash, Anchorage police said. According to police, the man entered the store in a motorized cart at about 3 p.m. and went the sporting goods section. Mahi asked him to the put the dog on a leash or leave. The man then pulled out a gun and shot the manager in the abdomen, police said.

Now there's a charming thought: People of Wal-Mart. Armed. (The manager is expected to survive, you'll be glad to hear.)

Weird stories like this, shocking as they are, distract us from the reality of what guns mostly do in America. The New York Times cast light on that daily truth in a disturbing long report this weekend.

Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half the women killed every year, according to federal statistics. More than half of these women are killed with a firearm.

Women often know that the man in their life is dangerous and will seek a protective order against him. One study of urban women found that 20% of murdered women had previously obtained a protective order. Yet there's a big loophole in these protective orders: a judge may tell a man to stay away from a woman. But in the large majority of states, a man under a protective order may still keep his guns. Even in those states that require surrender - California - the requirement is barely enforced.

Which is how we get cases like these:

Deborah Wigg, a 39-year-old accountant in Virginia Beach, obtained a protective order in April 2011 against her husband, Robert Wigg, whom she was in the process of divorcing. In her petition, she described a violent encounter in which Mr. Wigg grabbed her by her hair, threw her down, ripped out a door and threw it at her. He was arrested and charged with assault. She also made clear in the petition that her husband owned a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun.

She eventually won a full protective order, but Mr. Wigg kept his gun, which he used in his business installing and servicing A.T.M.’s.

Ms. Wigg and her co-workers at an accounting firm openly fretted about the weapon. She agreed that every morning she would call Marty Ridout, a partner at the firm, so he could make sure she was safe.

On the morning of Nov. 8, 2011, Ms. Wigg left Mr. Ridout a voice mail message saying everything was fine.

Around 11 p.m. that night, however, Mr. Wigg, 43, showed up at his wife’s home and began ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door. Ms. Wigg called her parents. Her mother, Adele Brown, told her to hang up and call 911.

But as Ms. Brown and her husband, who lived about a half-mile away, were heading over, Mr. Wigg smashed through the door and into the house. The Browns arrived to find a neighbor bent over their daughter’s bleeding form, screaming, “Debbie, don’t leave me!”

“When we got to her, those beautiful blue eyes were already set,” Ms. Brown said.

Ms. Wigg died of a single shot to the head.

After shooting his wife, Mr. Wigg drove to the Browns’, apparently to kill them as well. He killed himself in their front yard.

When I write about guns, I often hear from gun owners who insist they need weapons to protect their families. That's a laudable impulse. Yet it's very often true that when it comes time for the weapon to be used, it is turned against that family.