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Child Watch® Column: "That Gun Changed Our Lives Forever"

Release Date: July 3, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

“My heart was shattered while I was working at 60 Minutes when my only sister was shot and killed by her husband. There was a restraining order that stopped nothing.”  

“She called me and told me she was worried he was watching her. The next night, April 15th, he invaded the house. Her children, my beautiful 11-year-old niece and nine-year-old nephew, witnessed their mother being shot in the head and in the stomach by their father. The murder was recorded on 911 because my little niece somehow had the strength and courage when her father was threatening her mother to call 911 and say, ‘You need to come right away because someone is going to get shot here.’ My big sister was buried on my 28th birthday.”  

“My niece could not save her mother’s life, nor could she keep her father in her life. He serves a life sentence in prison in Pennsylvania. My niece lives with memories and loss every day and through every milestone in her life with grace and profound humility. With a deep and abiding faith, she has forgiven her father and given her husband and two sons a life full of faith and hope . . . She lives with the memory of her father pulling the trigger. We all live with how that gun changed our lives forever.”

“There are many days when she still aches to be folded in her mother’s arms. There are days when she aches because her sons have never known their grandparents. Some wounds never heal.”

Patti Hassler, the Children’s Defense Fund’s Vice President of Communications, shared this story of her own family’s heartbreak when a gun changed their lives forever. Pamela Jean Hassler Groff was a beloved sister, daughter, and mother. Now her children have grown up without her and her entire family has been left to wonder what might have been if her husband—still serving his life sentence in prison—had not gotten his hands on a gun.    

They are not alone. According to the Department of Justice, in 2010 at least 1,082 women and 267 men were killed by their intimate partners, and 54 percent of these victims were killed with guns.  For the past 30 years, more intimate partner homicides have been committed with a gun than with all other weapons combined; over two-thirds of victims murdered by a spouse or ex-spouse were killed by guns. Anger and jealousy do not last forever, but a gunshot fired in an impulsive rage often does. Easy accessibility to lethal guns makes a fatal difference over and over again.

Pamela Jean Hassler Groff did exactly what she was supposed to when her estranged husband became a threat: she sought and obtained a restraining order. It didn’t make a difference. In fact, in many states people who already have court orders against them because they are considered a danger are never required to surrender their access to firearms because the gun lobby has fought tirelessly in favor of them keeping their guns. 

As a recent New York Times article explained:  “Advocates for domestic violence victims have long called for stricter laws governing firearms and protective orders. Their argument is rooted in a grim statistic: when women die at the hand of an intimate partner, that hand is more often than not holding a gun. In these most volatile of human dramas, they contend, the right to bear arms must give ground to the need to protect a woman’s life. In statehouses across the country, though, the N.R.A. [National Rifle Association] and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations. They argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction — and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the ‘mere issuance of court orders.’” In order words, gun lobbyists would rather wait for a husband who already has a court order requiring him to stay away from his wife to receive an actual felony conviction—for example, one for murdering his wife—before asking him to stay away from guns.

We can do better. We must do better.   

Too many American families have had their lives changed forever by guns because too many Americans have easy, impulsive access to firearms—including hundreds of thousands of Americans who should never be allowed to have them. In too many cases children are witnesses to gun violence that occurs in their families or the children also become victims. We can do better. This July 4th weekend supporters of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action are signing an independence from gun violence pledge to rid the country of weak gun laws that allow this preventable epidemic of gun violence to continue. Now is the time to join thousands of supporters of common sense gun safety laws and demand the right to live free of the fear that your family could be the next to be devastated by gun violence.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by elle at: August 11, 2013
It is a tragedy that we have multiple communication devices today but we still have not found a way to control anger, jealousy, and/or rage, by talking to one another instead of screaming, destroying property, and/or taking the life of another person, and most important hurting our families and children in the process.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 10, 2013
its a bunch of bull, not the story the fact that taking guns away from average citizens makes us safer

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 10, 2013
if her sister had her own gun and knew how to use it she might not have been a victim. New gun laws will never get rid of criminals. I'm sick of bleeding hearts using these heart wrenching acts of violence to push something that would just hurt your average citizen

Submitted by Susan at: July 9, 2013
The only thing a grown man would need a gun for, other than possibly a hunting rifle, is to protect his stash (drugs); and kill his family. There should be laws requiring people to state what they think they need a gun for - and any signs of a violent history should preclude them from owning guns. The gun "permits" should be renewable every year - so if there is activity including Domestic Violence issues, the gun will be taken away as a necessary precaution - since that is what happens in Domestic Violence cases.

Submitted by KK at: July 8, 2013
If only strictly laws would change the statistics, our problem arises from a lack of value placed on human life. When you can kill an unarmed, helpless child we devalue human life and all the gun laws in the world will not change this.

Submitted by Jerome Livingston at: July 8, 2013
Many youth in inner cities have possession of guns, it appears that anyone can buy a gun, if he or she has the money. Young people have guns to stop others from picking on them in school, at parties and in the streets. They believe without guns they will be considered a punk. Youth believe that people respect you when you have a gun, but without a gun they do not feel respected, they do not feel of value, and they do not feel appreciated. They do not understand any other way that respect can be achieved. And they do not distinguish the difference between the fear that people have for them at the point of a gun and respect for them as a person without a gun. Redeem Yourself Author Jerome Livingston

Submitted by mm at: July 4, 2013
As far as the 2nd Amendment is concerned our country was in the process of defending itself against possible assaults. I do believe it was to enable the arming of the militia, and not for the public at large. Guns are properly a part of police forces and tlity

Submitted by Kathy at: July 3, 2013
This is a long battle, to give some power and hope to victims and potential victims of gun violence. Guns are a billion dollar industry, and until this economic fact is faced and dealt with, hope is dim for real change.Isn't it unbelievable that otherwise moral people would participate in this deadly market.

Submitted by Patty at: July 3, 2013
Great column! Our people come forward with rational, touching and civil arguments for gun control - doesn't work. These crooked legislators are neither rational nor capable of sympathy - they run on money and fear. We can't afford to pay them what the gun lobby does, so we have got to scare the hell out of them with scathingly opposing campaigns. Forget good taste - go get 'em!

Submitted by Retired Teacher at: July 3, 2013
1. She forgave the murderer, but blames the NRA. Huh? 2. Surrender all guns upon a restraining order? This will only make it ten times harder to get a restraining order. 3. "Gun control isn't gun confiscation." Yes, it is. 4. If she had obtained a weapon in addition to the court order, she might still be alive today.

Submitted by Lee at: July 3, 2013
A family never recovers from the loss of life from gun fire. The NRA is about power and money enforced by gun violence. Families never recover from My 19 year old sister-in-law's boyfriend "accidentally" shot and killed her while they allegedly were playing with a gun. Years later, my brother-in-law's 13 year old son "accidentally" shot and killed his 11 year brother. The family still grieves.

Submitted by Lee at: July 3, 2013
AYNOR, S.C. (AP) -- The CEO of a Connecticut gun company moving to South Carolina because of the southern state's less restrictive gun laws says he is no longer sad, but angry he felt like he had to leave his home state. PTR Industries CEO Josh Fiorini came to his company's new home in tiny Aynor on Monday for a celebration of the firm's move South. Fiorini says he had little choice but to move after Connecticut passed a new law banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. He says the law makes all the rifles PTR Industries makes illegal in the state. South Carolina ranks #18 among the 20 most deadly states. Gun deaths per 100,000: 13.4. Permissive gun laws: 20th out of 50. A Connecticut gun manufacturer is moving to South Carolina after Connecticut lawmakers passed stricter gun-control laws in the aftermath of the fatal Sandy Hook School shootings. Read more:

Submitted by progwoman at: July 3, 2013
Perhaps the whole idea of orders of protection need to be reexamined. Too many times they seem to act as red flags rather than restraints.

Submitted by Kathy at: July 3, 2013
I have been thinking and saying this same thing ever since I began to hear about domestic violence thirty years ago. The story does not change. When will we learn, if ever????

Submitted by Jerry at: July 3, 2013
Restraining orders against a threatening person should require that the threat be disarmed.

Submitted by PJ at: July 3, 2013
My question would be, what is the answer? Gun control does not work, I have witnessed that. All that happens with gun control is the criminals are the only ones with the guns. They will get a gun no matter how much gun control we have.