This week the NH House passed SB 318, the bill known as “Joshua’s Law.” The bill establishes the official, stand alone crime of domestic violence. Up till now, abusers were charged with crimes from other statutes, such as simple assault, or criminal threatening. There was no legal distinction made between the beating of a spouse or a bar fight. This made the gathering of domestic violence statistics more difficult, and it also made keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers more difficult.
The need for good statistical information about domestic violence in our state is obvious. It’s important for the allocation of resources to both educate communities and law enforcement, as well as combating the crime itself. It’s also important to know if what we’re doing is working. It’s easy to gather statistical information about other crimes. This should be no different.
According to a 2012 Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence, approximately half of the homicides in NH and 92 percent of murder-suicides are domestic violence related. The was named “Joshua’s Law” in honor of the late Joshua Savyon, a nine year old boy who was killed by his father in 2013. Muni Savyon killed his son and then himself. Savyon was an abuser who was angry with his wife for leaving him. He was also part of the Free State Project, a group of libertarians moving to NH to colonize the state, take over the state government, and then threaten to secede from the union. These are people who hate the government and blame everything on “the state.” Muni Savyon was angry at “the state”, too. In his suicide note he pointed out that his ex “believed in the state so much” but they couldn’t prevent him from killing his son, thereby leaving her alone to suffer the same kind of pain he had been suffering.
The reality is that we don’t care much about domestic violence on any level. Talking about it makes people wince. Law enforcement has a historic aversion to dealing with domestic violence crimes. We’ve certainly come a long way. Back in the 90’s I went to the Conway Police with a complaint about a stalker, and a disinterested officer told me there wasn’t anything they could do, since he hadn’t done anything to hurt me. The fact that this man had been the subject of half a dozen restraining orders taken out by half a dozen women didn’t move him. When I suggested that he seemed to be saying that he wouldn’t develop any concern until the guy killed me, he told me I had a bad attitude. On that much we agreed. I did have a bad attitude about stalkers. I still do. But that was 20 years ago, and I know that the Conway PD has evolved, and that Chief Wagner has worked hard to ensure that evolution.
On the federal level, the crime of domestic violence is what is called a qualifying crime, which means that the abuser’s guns will be taken away, and they will not be allowed to legally purchase guns in the future. When a person legally purchases a weapon, the store calls NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, to determine the eligibility of the person who wants to buy the weapon. The NICS line is intended to keep weapons out of the wrong hands and ensure a timely transfer to a qualified buyer. This process has actually been slowed down in NH, because of the lack of a domestic violence statute. The new law will streamline the process considerably. Responsible gun owners whose purchases should not be delayed will benefit from the new law.
This was bipartisan legislation. Sponsors included 6 Senators and 5 Representatives from both parties. One of the sponsors was our own Gene Chandler. Everyone could see the value in having a specific statute. In February, the Senate unanimously passed the bill. It passed the House this week on a vote of 325-3.
That’s right. Three representatives voted against this sensible legislation. All were men and all Republicans. They are Rep. Frank Sapareto from Derry, Michael Sylvia from Belmont, and JR Hoell of Dunbarton. I don’t know what Rep. Sapareto’s reasoning was. Michael Sylvia consistently votes against just about everything. (He, too, is a Free Stater.) JR Hoell is affiliated with a fringe gun group, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, who proudly refer to themselves as “NH’s Only No-Compromise Gun Rights Organization.” In other words, they oppose any and all gun legislation. This seems to indicate that they are not interested in keeping guns out of the hands of violent abusers, which is truly a radical stance.
As luck would have it, I saw Rep. Hoell at the State House, and asked him why he voted against SB 318. He muttered something about “unintended consequences” and ran away. He was interviewed by WMUR-GOP, and expressed his concern for the term “intimate partner” which, in Hoellville, might be interpreted as having gone out on one date. The issue of violence didn’t appear to trouble him, only the idea that somehow the wording of that statute might prevent gun ownership. That an actual crime would have to be committed for that to occur did not concern him.
It’s unfortunate that we still have to have these discussions in 2014.
In the case of Joshua’s Law, however, the majority of our duly elected officials from both parties came together without rancor, to ensure greater accountability for abusers. This is how our citizen legislature is supposed to work. Be sure to thank and congratulate your state representatives. They’ve done a good thing.
* A letter that Rep. Hoell's fringe gun group sent out about SB 318 is posted below.
© sbruce 2014
Published as a bi-weekly column in the May 2, 2014 edition of the Conway Daily Sun