In 2014, Lori Jackson Gellatly was shot and killed by her estranged husband, after she had moved from the family’s home with the couple’s twin toddlers to her mother’s house in Oxford.
Lori Gellatly had filed for and obtained a temporary restraining order because she said her husband was abusive. She was just a day shy of a hearing for a permanent order against her husband, who also seriously wounded Lori Gellatly’s mother.
Lori Gellatly’s husband (I am tired of naming shooters) has since pleaded guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder, and he’s due back in court in November for what could be a 45-year sentence.
Lori Gellatly died during what advocates and researchers say is a particularly vulnerable time, when an accused offender could react violently to being subject to a temporary restraining order.
According to Liza Andrews, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) director of public policy and communications, Connecticut law prohibits possession of a firearm by people who are the subject of a long-term restraining or protective order. But before that, when a woman files for a restraining order, a judge can immediately issue a temporary order—an ex parte order—which it did in Lori Gellaty’s case. The temporary order is meant to protect the woman during the two-week period it takes to get a hearing for the longer-term restraining or protective order.
But under that two-week temporary order, there are no state prohibitions against possessing a firearm, and it was during that two-week period that Lori Gellatly was killed.
Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm if a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence. At least 20 other states (such as California and New Jersey) have tightened their laws to restrict firearm possession for people subject to temporary restraining orders.
Connecticut, too, needs to close that loophole.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and research says that when guns are involved in domestic violence, women die. In fact, research from Johns Hopkins University—one of the few medical entities researching gun violence—says that women are five times more likely to die when a firearm is involved in a domestic violence incident. Despite the NRA’s nonsense about how “locked and loaded ladies” are defending themselves with firearms, a gun rarely protects the woman in the house. Instead, it’s more often the weapon used to wound or kill her.
The potential for carnage is significant. The state judicial branch says that last year there were 8,669 applications for restraining orders, of which 4,409 were approved. After full hearings, 2,445 permanent restraining orders were granted. (The relatively low numbers come in part, say advocates, strictly because some people who file don’t meet the criteria of intimate partners.)
A study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine says roughly 35 to 29 percent of American households claim to own firearms. Another study of women in domestic violence shelters said that when women previously lived in homes where guns were present, two-thirds of those women had guns used against them. The annual rate of firearm-related homicide in the United States—7.1 homicides for every 100,000 people—is the highest among high-income countries. Guns in the home put everyone at risk. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that the presence of a gun in the home increases a person’s risk of dying by homicide from 40 percent to 170 percent. (That same study says that living in a home with a gun increases the risk of suicide from 90 percent to 460 percent.)
According to the CCADV, Connecticut averages 14 intimate partner homicides annually, and most of those deaths occur because of gun violence.
During a month when we’re awash in sad statistics and sadder stories, a little common sense would go a long way. This isn’t about standing in the way of any one’s constitutional right to own a gun. It is, instead, taking guns out of the hands of bad guys. Surely we can agree on that.
Susan Campbell is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven and the Robert C. Vance Chair for Journalism and Mass Communication at Central Connecticut State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.