A gun-control bill filed in the Georgia state senate could prevent people from buying firearms while going through divorce proceedings. Inspired by the personal experiences of county prosecutor April Ross, the law would require a judge to okay any spouse’s gun purchase if she or he is in the middle of a legal separation.
Authorities told WSBTV that Ross filed for divorce on a Monday in April of 2014. That Friday, she was paralyzed from the chest down when her then-husband shot her, then killed himself. “He had planned it out, purchased guns and ammunition shortly before he decided to do this, maybe within a week or two before,” she said.
Ross says she knows that the bill wouldn’t prevent every possible divorce-prompted attack, but it could reduce the ease with which a hurting party could inflict harm on another. For someone who’s trying to get out of a relationship, the months around a divorce filing are a dangerous time, as emotions and angry impulses run high.
And Georgia is an excellent place for a scorned ex-husband to plan his assault. Last year, the state enacted a law that Al-Jazeera called “one of the most extreme pro-gun bills in the country,” allowing guns into bars, clubs, schools, TSA checkpoints, government buildings, and churches, if the religious leader approves. More than 70 percent of Georgians reportedly opposed the bill, which also allowed for the “stand your ground” defense. This November, the state made national news when an Atlanta 6-year-old shot and killed herself after finding a gun tucked into the cushions of her father’s couch.
In a state that’s home to a town that mandates gun ownership, the proposed bill makes sense from a harm-reduction perspective; guns often escalate existing domestic violence. In many states, domestic abusers and stalkers (who are forbidden from acquiring firearms) get to keep the guns they already have at the time of their convictions. The majority of fatal domestic-abuse instances involve a gun, and nearly half of all murdered women are killed by intimate partners. Divorce is a common trigger for attacks on a partner, and for suicides, too.
But divorces can take months to become official, and longer if one of the parties is unwilling to comply with the terms or the separation itself. On one hand, that’s a long time to prevent an otherwise gun-eligible person from getting a gun while other potentially more sinister characters freely stock up their arsenals. On the other, there’s not much reason any person who’s not planning to attack another person would need to buy a handgun in any particular six-month period. Ross says that had she known her husband had purchased a firearm, she would have gone to stay with a friend or “somewhere he didn’t know.” Her plan-B suggestion—a law that would notify one party to the divorce if the other buys a gun—seems more likely to pass the Republican-controlled state legislature and seems nearly as effective as a subjective judicial decree.