Assault of elderly Waterville woman raises questions about gun control

The recent attack and assault of an 73-year-old woman in Waterville has sparked the discussion over gun control and whether it might be beneficial for citizens to own guns as a means of protection. The debate began when Waterville Police Chief Joe Massey voiced his opinion that this case made an argument that citizens should be able to arm themselves for  self-defense. Many others, however, countered Massey’s view, arguing that allowing citizens to possess guns will most likely do more harm than good and lead to an increase in both accidental and deliberate deaths.

The crime occurred on February 7, when 32-year-old Mark Halle broke into an elderly woman’s home in Waterville and sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. Prosecutors say Halle broke into the woman’s home by removing her air conditioning unit from a window. The woman told Waterville police officials that she awoke to a loud bang shortly before 5 a.m. on Sunday. She left her bedroom to find a man dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and armed with what appeared to be a handgun. She explained that the man forced her back into the bedroom and put a pillowcase over her head, sexually assaulted her, and then later beat her with the gun.

“It was very concerning,” said Massey. “The age, the fact that it was random, the level of violence: those three factors make it unusual.” Police tracked down Halle hours later, and reported that he admitted to the assault, showing no emotion and giving no explanation for why he committed the acts. Halle was charged with felony counts of gross sexual assault, burglary, aggravated assault, assault and criminal threatening. Investigators found that the weapon used in the attack was a pellet gun that looked like a real firearm. The woman suffered multiple bruises from the beating and was later hospitalized, police said.

While this incident disturbed and concerned the local community, it has also drawn attention to a larger issue, in the eyes of Massey. While Massey is happy that Halle is now behind bars, he explained to the Portland Press Herald his concern that other residents of the community may not be fully protected. Ultimately, he argued that the case illustrates how “there are monsters living amongst us” who commit violent acts against the innocent. As a result, Massey stated his opinion that more people should take a safety course and keep a gun in a safe place at home in order to have a means of protection. In his view, more people arming themselves would reduce crime. “Someone said, ‘A gun in hand is better than someone on the phone telling you police are on their way,” Massey quoted.

However, though Massey is in support of gun ownership, he made it a point to explain that residents should be properly trained and know how to handle a gun before bringing one into their home.

As of October 15, 2015, a permit is not needed to carry a firearm —concealed or open—in the State of Maine, provided that the carrier is legally allowed to own a gun and is over 21, or a member or veteran of the military and over age 18. Portland Police chief Michael Sauschuck is firmly against this law, telling The Portland Press Herald, “I think this law is misguided. We continue to go the wrong way on gun legislation.” While Massey hopes residents choose to legally and safely own a firearm, many gun regulation advocates argue that far more crimes would be created than prevented by widespread gun ownership. “It is widely accepted among researchers that increasing gun ownership leads to more suicides and homicides committed with firearms,” Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York told The Portland Press Herald. “If threatened with deadly force, we would all like to have a gun; but arming all potential victims would also vastly increase the number of innocent people killed with guns.” Others agreed with Butts and argued that though many people may want a gun to protect themselves and their families against assaults, home invasions or public mass shootings, in reality, only a very small number of people will ever experience one of these tragedies. Rather, the unintentional death of a child or family member is much more likely to occur by having an armed weapon in a household. Studies have shown that more than two children a week die from unintentional shootings, most often in a home or vehicle owned by the victim’s family, and last year alone, at least 265 children under the age of 18 accidentally shot themselves or someone else.

With the recent change in gun control laws in Maine, citizens are no longer required to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, the topic of gun ownership has become a hot subject. In the Halle case of sexual assault against the elderly woman, it is unclear as to whether or not the woman could have used a gun to defend herself or whether the attack could have been prevented had she had such a weapon for protection. However, the shock and brutality of the attack along with Massey’s voicing of his opinion, taps into the national debate about guns and crime.

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