Published January 13, 2015
What do you do when the police can’t protect you?
Police may be the single most important factor for reducing crime, but there is something the police themselves understand: They almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has occurred.
Expecting people to trust the police to protect them and to behave passively is a recipe for disaster.
The last couple of weeks have seen a couple prominent murders where restraining orders did women little good. Numerous news organizations, such as ABC News, have run headlines asking "How Do You Stop a Stalker From Killing You?"
Unfortunately, despite acknowledging that "many women find themselves on their own," the media are drawing the wrong lessons. To simply advise that women "Get the hell away from him" often doesn't go anywhere near far enough.
With her tragic murder last Monday on the campus of the University of Washington, Rebecca Griego learned this the hard way. Twice she had filed for restraining orders against her abusive and physically violent former boyfriend, Jonathan Ghulam-Nabi Rowan, but the police didn’t know where he lived and could never serve him.
It wasn’t like they didn’t try, for in January they couldn’t even locate Rowan for an outstanding warrant for a drunk driving conviction.
Rowan made Rebecca’s life hell. In police reports as well as her request for a restraining order, she described Rowan as a "suicidal alcoholic” who had “punched,” “slammed” and “thrown” her to the ground.
To no avail, she moved a couple of times and changed her cell phone number. Nevertheless, on March 7 and 14, Rowan called her at work, threatening both her and her dog. He then called and threatened Rebecca’s older sister.
But restraining orders often aren't worth the paper on which they're written, even when they are served.
For a stalker intent on killing his victim or committing suicide after the attack, the penalty for violating a restraining order is irrelevant. With Seattle police's response time of seven minutes for the highest-priority emergency calls, the police simply can't be there to protect you even with a restraining order. Seven minutes can seem like an eternity.
With such rampant failures in the system, there is one piece of advice that could have saved Rebecca’s life: Practice self-defense and a get a gun.
Indeed, the University of Washington goes in the opposite direction and tries to protect people by declaring the campus a “gun-free zone,” with the school’s code of conduct banning the “possession or use of firearms ... except for authorized university purposes.”
Gun-free zones may be well-intentioned, but good intentions are not enough. It is an understandable desire to ban guns; after all, if you ban guns from an area, people can’t get shot, right? But time after time when these public shootings occur, they disproportionately take place in gun-free zones.
It is the law-abiding good citizens who would only use a gun for protection who obey these bans. Violating a gun-free zone at a place such as a public university may mean expulsion or firing and arrest, real penalties for law-abiding citizens. But for someone intent on killing others, adding on these penalties for violating a gun-free zone means little to someone who, if still alive, faces life in prison.
Unfortunately, instead of gun-free zones ensuring safety for victims, ensuring that the victims are unarmed only makes things safer for attackers.
One of us conducted research with Bill Landes at the University of Chicago that examined all the multiple-victim public shootings in the United States from 1977 to 1999. We found that when states passed right-to-carry laws, these attacks fell by 60 percent. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 percent.
To the extent that attacks still occurred, they overwhelmingly happened in the special places within right-to-carry states where concealed handguns were banned. The University of Washington is a good example of this.
There is no evidence that there are any more accidental gun deaths that occur from right-to-carry laws. Permit holders also tend to be extremely law-abiding.
Ironically, earlier this year University of Washington President Mark Emmert began consideration of making the school’s ban somehow apply to students living off campus as well. Students are sitting ducks on campus, but the change would make them vulnerable off campus as well.
Not only did the gun-free zones fail here, but it is extremely unlikely that Rowan could even legally own a gun. As a non-resident alien, Rowan needed an alien firearms license to even own a gun, something that rarely is granted.
There is an even simpler point to make. It is the physically weakest, women and the elderly, who benefit the most from having a gun to protect themselves. The U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that resistance with a gun is by far the safest course of action when one confronts a criminal.
Good intentions don't necessarily make good rules. What counts is whether the rules ultimately save lives. Unfortunately, too many rules primarily disarm law-abiding citizens, not criminals.
Sonya Jones is a lawyer.