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The Supreme Court will hear a case on protecting domestic violence victims from guns


The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week in a major gun case that tests the constitutionality of an important federal firearms law. The law makes it a felony for anybody subject to a domestic violence court order to possess a gun. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg will report on the legal issues in the case next week. Today, she tells us about the real-life effects. And a caution, there are graphic descriptions of violence in her report.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Domestic violence with a gun is terrifyingly common in this country. Every 16 hours, a woman is killed by an intimate partner with a gun. Children, other family members and police answering 911 calls are often killed, too. But statistics cannot convey the horror and terror that domestic violence victims suffer. So I spoke to Kate Ranta, whose story is among those told in the 38 briefs filed in the Supreme Court in support of gun restrictions. Kate was 38 in 2008 when she married Air Force Captain Tom Maffei. His verbal abuse had taken an ominous turn. After the two argued one night, he returned to the house drunk.

KATE RANTA: He had passed me and went into our master bedroom, and I heard what sounded like a gun chamber, the (imitating sound of bullets being loaded).

TOTENBERG: By the end of the evening, Tom had taken their 2-year-old from his crib, briefly driven away with him and threatened to punch Kate in the face.

RANTA: I didn't grow up in an abusive household. My parents are teachers. They've been married 55 years. I didn't know what any of this was, so my dad took me to the courthouse the next day.

TOTENBERG: She got a temporary restraining order that allowed police to seize Tom's many guns from the house. And Kate and her son went to live with her parents. But she, like many domestic abuse victims, eventually went back to her husband for financial reasons.

RANTA: The mortgage wasn't getting paid 'cause he wasn't paying his share. My car had been repossessed. I had massive debt.

TOTENBERG: So when Tom told her he wanted to put the family back together, Kate agreed - until three months later, when she came home to find Tom had given their son an Ambien to sleep and the 4-year-old was hallucinating. This time, she and her son left for good. Eventually, she rented an apartment in a gated community and didn't tell Tom the address. After eight months, the judge ended the protective order and refused three times to renew it. Meanwhile, Tom was stalling on a visitation schedule and threatening to take William away from Kate. Finally, someone from protective services told him that he wasn't going to see his son until there was a visitation schedule in place. Suddenly, Kate says, everything went quiet for about 10 days.

RANTA: The threats just stopped, so it was really kind of eerie.

TOTENBERG: Then one night, she went out to her car to find a tire slashed. She knew instantly it was Tom. And when her father came over, he spotted him in the parking lot.

RANTA: So my dad came in, and by the time he got into the door, my ex was pushing against the door to try to come in. And my dad and I were on the other side pushing against the door. And then all of a sudden, there were three booms, and he shot three times through the door behind which both of us were standing. And my son William was standing just feet behind me.

TOTENBERG: Kate was shot in the chest and the hand.

RANTA: Then he went over to my dad. Then I just heard boom. And I heard my dad grunt. I thought he killed him. I was laying in my own blood. I remember there being blood splattered up the wall. I managed to crawl to the little dining room table I had. My son was standing on the other side of it, and my ex came over and knelt down next to William, and he had the gun, and he was, like, pointing it and, like, taunting me with it. And all of a sudden, my son yelled, don't do it, Daddy. Don't shoot Mommy. And it got real quiet.

TOTENBERG: As she heard her husband walked to the kitchen, Kate decided to make a break for the front door. That was her only chance.

RANTA: I really assumed he would shoot me in the back of the head as I was leaving.

TOTENBERG: Somehow, she managed to get out, falling on the grass. Police ringed the area, but under the then-existing protocol, they didn't come in when there was an active shooter.

RANTA: Next thing you know, my father walks out with William in front of him, and it was the first time that we realized we were both still alive.

TOTENBERG: Kate, now a marketing specialist for a tech company, has fully recovered; her father, too, except that he has only limited use of one arm. A jury convicted Tom of premeditated attempted first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

RANTA: We're extremely lucky to have had that kind of justice. That is not the norm with women and domestic violence. I have so many survivor friends who did not see justice like we did.

TOTENBERG: Her son William, now 15, has finally emerged from the dark side of the experience. And on Tuesday, he'll be rallying at the Supreme Court in support of the law that bars firearms for domestic abusers.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.