The next incarnation of the assault weapons ban, a perennial legislative proposal in Annapolis, will include a provision that would prevent convicted perpetrators of domestic violence from buying or owning guns.
Representatives from Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse said yesterday they have decided to combine the issues of gun control and domestic violence in one bill during the 1994 session of the General Assembly, providing the group with a new ally -- the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women in Baltimore.
Although the legislation has not been written yet, supporters also plan to include a limit on purchases, similar to the one approved in Virginia, along with the attempt to restrict access by those convicted in domestic violence cases or named in civil protection orders.
"You can accomplish so much more with a comprehensive bill, it just makes sense to go for it," Jane Caplan, deputy director of the anti-gun group, said at a press conference at the House of Ruth.
The strategy is something of a departure for the group, which in previous years has kept the ban separate from proposals with a greater chance for approval -- the child protection law of 1992, for example, and this year's law closing of the loophole that allowed people to avoid criminal background checks when buying from private collectors at gun shows.
Carole Alexander, director of the House of Ruth, said the shelter decided to get involved in gun control because of the role that firearms play in domestic violence. Coalitions such as this one, which includes more than 250 groups, also gives the House of Ruth a chance to make a greater impact, she acknowledged.
"Women and guns once seemed as remote as Calamity Jane," Ms. Alexander said. "But women are buying handguns [in record numbers] now and the sales pitch is, 'Don't be a victim.' "
Ms. Alexander said a firearm in the house is more likely to lead to a fatality in the event of domestic violence. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that a domestic dispute is 12 times more likely to end in death if a gun is available.
And, of the 33 homicides in Maryland last year that were classified as domestic violence cases, one-third involved guns, Ms. Alexander said. "That may sound low, but it seems high to me," she said. "There was no number higher than the gun number."
The National Rifle Association does not comment on legislation that has yet to be written.
But Bob McMurray, a spokesman with the Maryland State Pistol and Rifle Association, maintained that a handgun may be the only way a woman can defend herself against a larger, stronger assailant, whether he's a husband or a stranger.
"Women are so much smaller than men, they need an advantage," he said.
Over the past few years, gun manufacturers have targeted women as potential consumers, using advertisements that deal with their concern for personal safety. The NRA also has a women's issues office, which recruits volunteers who are willing to share their stories about using guns to protect themselves.
Yet there are no statistics and sparse anecdotal evidence of women using firearms in domestic violence cases.
And those women who have shot a boyfriend or an ex-husband often are reluctant to discuss it, according to NRA officials.
Mr. McMurray said his group would not necessarily oppose adding spousal abuse to the list of criminal convictions that keep one from owning a gun in Maryland.