Officials say guns not the answer to abuse

February 23, 1997


Staff Writer

Death brought an end to yet another case of domestic violence last week.

But it was the alleged abuser who died early last Sunday, not his ex-girlfriend. The man was shot and killed after he broke into the woman's home in Franklin County, Pa.

Advocates for domestic violence victims don't encourage women living in fear to arm themselves.

"We can't be handing out handguns with protection orders," said Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion.

In some cases, owning a weapon could put you in greater danger, said Barbara Channing, executive director of Women in Need Victim Services in Chambersburg, Pa.

"So many times you could be overpowered and a gun could be used against you," Channing said.

All six homicides in Franklin County in the past year are believed to have their roots in domestic violence.

In the latest incident on Feb. 16, 34-year-old William Henry Barbour Jr. was shot multiple times after he broke in the front door of a Guilford Township house.


Christine Pittman, 26, had filed a protection from abuse order in August after Barbour was charged with harassment and simple assault, Franklin County Court records show.

Patrick Atkinson, who was living with Pittman at 1628 Magnolia Court, fired the fatal shots, police said. He has not been charged, although police say the investigation is not over.

In that and other recent deaths, court orders did not prevent violence.

"You can take all the precautions in the world and that's not going to guarantee your safety," Channing said. "If you have an abuser that's determined, it's just a constant fear you have to live with."

Still, Channing and other domestic violence advocates say women shouldn't give up hope.

Protection orders give prosecutors another avenue to send abusers to jail. In some cases, it is easier to prove that someone violated protection order than committed an assault, Cirincion said.

Confidential shelters also can protect women.

Heartly House, a shelter in Frederick, Md., has been at or near its 29-bed capacity since the holidays, said Executive Director Warren Spaid.

Another alternative for women in Frederick: A pendant which gives them a direct line to the police. A push of the necklace's button automatically calls the police.

Women who shoot their alleged batterers aren't always protected by self-defense laws, Cirincion said.

She cited women convicted of murder for killing their longtime abusers when their own lives were not in danger.

In some cases - a threat from someone who has shot at you before, for example - victims might be justified carrying guns, said Nathan Cochran, assistant prosecuting attorney in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Local experts offer these suggestions for people living in fear of an abuser:

  • Get a protection order
  • Don't initiate any contact with the abuser.
  • If the person violates the protection order, alert police. Document precisely what the abuser has done.
  • Determine possible escape routes in your home.
  • Find a neighbor you trust and develop a signal - maybe turning on a porch light - to let the person know you are in trouble.
  • Work out a code word with your children to let them know to call 911.
  • If someone is following you in the car, go to a police station or where there will be other people.
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