My Uncle Ray Dilger was the kindest man I’ve ever known. Ray, who was once a stock car driver, used his passion for cars to help others at the auto-repair shop he owned. I grew up with stories of Uncle Ray pulling over to help strangers fix their broken-down cars, and when community members were struggling to make ends meet, he’d offer to do some of the labor for free.
My uncle’s most selfless act was hiding his daughter, my cousin Cheryl, from her abusive ex-partner. And for that, he was shot and killed.
My cousin Cheryl dated a family friend. They moved in together and had a child. Soon after, the abuse started. It didn’t take long for my Uncle Ray to intervene — he took steps to help get Cheryl out of their house and into a safer place.
After Cheryl went into hiding, her ex-partner began calling my uncle, threatening to kill him for hiding her and their child. After months of threats, Cheryl’s ex-partner broke into my uncle’s home and shot him while he was sleeping. He died in the hospital a day later.
Domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women — there are roughly 45 million American women alive today who have been threatened by an intimate partner with a gun — but my uncle Ray’s death shows how the consequences of domestic abuse extend beyond intimate partners.
A 2014 analysis of intimate partner homicides from 16 states found that 20 percent of all domestic violence murder victims are someone outside the abusive relationship. The analysis found that of the 4,470 people who died in 3,350 incidents, 194 were new partners, 169 were children, 140 were friends, nine were law enforcement officers and 25 were strangers. Firearms were used to kill 70 percent of these victims.
We know that guns and domestic violence are a deadly combination, which is why federal law prohibits certain abusers from buying or possessing guns. But not all states have the laws they need to protect victims of abuse. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation aligning state law with federal law by prohibiting those convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
Idaho is not one of those states.
Until our laws empower law enforcement with tools to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, innocent victims will continue to die.
We’ve seen a staggering number of domestic violence-related homicides and murder-suicides this year. Just this week there was another murder-suicide in Meridian, and in September, our community was rocked by news of a murder-suicide in Nampa. In July, we saw five people killed in domestic violence incidents in a single day.
The tragic reality is that domestic violence is all too common. Last year, the Idaho State Police reported nearly 6,000 incidents of violence between spouses, ex-spouses and those in dating relationships. I know firsthand that domestic violence becomes deadlier when there’s a gun present, and it’s a terrifying trend our state needs to address before more lives are senselessly cut short.
What once was grief for my Uncle Ray eventually turned into frustration, too. Let’s fight in memory of those who have been silenced and make sure we’re doing all we can to protect families from experiencing the pain my family endured.
Without laws that close loopholes enabling domestic abusers to get guns, we are turning a blind eye to countless victims and their loved ones who are in danger, as well as to the first responders and law enforcement officers working to keep them safe.
Please, before it’s too late for your family as well.