Sadly, headlines like that work

I’ve written several times about the connection between domestic violence and mass murder. Nearly every time a heinous event involving a mass shooting occurs, the murderer has a history of violence at home.  We just had a chilling reminder of this in Charlottesville — James Alex Fields, who drove through a crowd of protesters, repeatedly beat his disabled mother, according to a series of 911 calls.

There are always warning signs. Often, they aren’t subtle. Sadly, the taboo around discussing domestic violence often means we hear about the warning signs too late.  In this story, I wrote about how tight-lipped local police are around “domestics.”

There are encouraging signs, however. For all the NFL does wrong, a recent string of high-profile incidents has at least contributed to widespread discussion of the topic.  Given the state of discourse in America right now, I wonder how much good it will do, however.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s very hard to have an adult conversation about important topics right now in the poisoned political atmosphere of our time.  So at great risk of delving into one of the topics Americans can’t talk about, let me pose a question: Say you have a known domestic abuser, someone who’s threatened to harm their partner repeatedly, and recently.  Would it be a good idea to take that person’s guns away?

Such questions obviously bring up a series of deeper issues.  Gun rights advocates always raise the slippery slope argument (take anyone’s guns away, and you’ll come for mine next).  A thinking person can reasonably make that argument.  Can those concerns be addressed? What if the order requires a judge’s review? And it can be appealed? And it has a time limit?  Is that reasonable? If not, what would be reasonable?

This stuff is hard. In the past, I’ve written about how hard it is to prevent classes of folks who aren’t eligible to get guns from buying them — in the age of ID theft, background checks are trivially easy to foil.  Are there already laws in place that could be better enforced to keep guns from the mentally unfit or those who seem likely to commit mass harm? Figuring this out would require an all-hands-on-deck meeting of the minds.

See, I wasn’t kidding.

Sadly, the wonderful discussion tool that is the Internet poisons every such discussion.  This week, a website named — which, I kid you not, trades in videos of protesters getting hit in their family jewels by rubber bullets — hit the viral jackpot with a story titled “OREGON GOVERNOR JUST SIGNED A GUN CONFISCATION LAW – THIS NEEDS TO GO VIRAL.”  You see what they did there.  If the counter on the story is to be believed, 150,000 people shared the story within a couple of days.

The story called the law “An unprecedented move of ruthless tyranny.”

“Oregon is no longer a free state,” it said. “This new anti-second amendment law permits government officials to order the confiscation of guns, simply based off of hearsay evidence.”

That’s the way to have a viral sensation. Let me confess my bias to you here and now. At, I had lots of stories read by millions of people.  Haven’t pulled that off yet at, so I’m jealous.  Perhaps if I wrote headlines like, “REASONABLE DISCUSSION ABOUT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MASS MURDER AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE — THIS MUST GO VIRAL,” I’d have better luck.

Back to SilenceIsConsent.  Snopes does a good, fair jobs of separating fact from fiction in its story. As with all such Internet sensations, there’s a bit of truth wrapped up in a whole lot of misleading inferences.

“The law only applies to individuals deemed an imminent danger either to themselves or to others; evidence is required for a judge to make the ruling, which can be appealed,” Snopes wrote.

Feel free to be skeptical of Snopes. Go ahead and read the law for yourself.    It allows a judge to order something called an “extreme risk protection order” under a few specific circumstances: a history or threats of suicide; a history or threats of violence against someone, or convictions for things like stalking.  And here’s the kicker:

“The court shall issue an extreme risk protection order if the court finds by clear and convincing  evidence (my emphasis), based on the petition and supporting documentation and after considering a statement by the respondent, if provided, that the respondent presents a risk in the near future, including an imminent risk, of suicide or of causing physical injury to another person,” the law says.  And it goes on. “The court may not include in the findings any mental health diagnosis or any connection between the risk presented by the respondent and mental illness.”

And the target of the order can appeal.

Does this law mean Oregon is no longer a free state?  I’ll let you decide. But here’s what I know:

A woman who has an angry, abusive ex-boyfriend with a gun isn’t free.

Balancing her rights with the rights of gun owners to be left alone requires a thoughtful discussion.   I call on fair-minded people everywhere to seek out such discussions and stop making folks who trade in anger click-rich. Let’s make this go viral!

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About Bob Sullivan 1638 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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