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November 9, 2009

The Gun-Toting Soccer Mom

On October 7, Meleanie Hain’s handgun failed to protect her. That evening, she was in the kitchen of her home in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, chatting on the Internet with a friend through a web camera. Her husband, Scott Hain, entered the room, picked up a 9mm handgun, and shot her several times. As the Hain’s children—ages 2, 6 and 10—fled the house in terror, Hain’s online friend heard the shots and immediately called 911. When police arrived, Meleanie Hain was found dead in the kitchen. Scott Hain, having committed suicide with a shotgun, was found dead in an upstairs bedroom.

Meleanie’s 9mm Glock 26 handgun, loaded with a full magazine and a bullet in the chamber, was in a backpack hanging from the front door. A car parked in the driveway bore an “NRA Law Enforcement” bumper sticker.

A Visible Presence
The murder-suicide drew a significant amount of media coverage because Meleanie Hain was an ardent and outspoken pro-gun activist. Known as the “gun-toting soccer mom,” she gained national attention in September of last year when she openly carried her Glock handgun to her five year-old daughter’s soccer game in Lebanon. This led to an outcry by other parents affiliated with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Soccer League who feared for the safety of their children. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much they could do. It is legal for Pennsylvania residents to openly carry handguns in public—and no permit is required.

Why did Hain bring her gun to her daughter’s soccer games? She explained that it was for self-defense and because “carrying a gun ensures that I’m taking responsibility for my children’s safety.” She added that she carried her gun openly (versus concealed) because “I don’t really need anything extra in the way of the gun if I’m going to have to pull it out and I’m holding a baby and trying to shuttle two or three other kids.” “It may sound arrogant,” Hain said, “but the Constitution has guaranteed me a right, and there is nothing more to say about it.”

Preaching the Gospel
Hain spoke frequently with the press and echoed a number of talking points that have been circulated for years by the National Rifle Association and other gun lobby groups:

These comments brought plaudits from pro-gun activists (Pennsylvania Open Carry presented her with awards and one visitor at OpenCarry.org memorialized Hain by stating, “She was a true beacon for the [open carry] cause and fought the good fight”) and circumspection by Lebanon County Sheriff Michael DeLeo. On September 17, 2008, DeLeo revoked Hain’s concealed handgun permit, citing a section of Pennsylvania law that applies to individuals “whose character and reputation is such that [they] would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.”

Hain appealed the revocation and her permit was reinstated on October 14, 2008, by County Judge Robert Eby, a gun owner and concealed carry permit holder himself. Eby said that the law required him to return Hain’s permit (Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue” state that gives local law enforcement no discretion in denying permits to those who pass basic computerized background checks), but he questioned her judgment nonetheless. Eby noted that Hain had “scared the devil” out of other parents and children, and declared, “Fear doesn’t belong at a kid’s soccer game from any source.” He advised her to stop open carrying her sidearm at the games—a suggestion she immediately dismissed.

Scarlet Letter
Hain wasn’t done though. She then launched a million-dollar lawsuit against Sheriff DeLeo, claiming he had infringed on her Second Amendment rights. “Just the fact that he was wrong is evidenced by the fact that my license was restored to me,” said Hain. “I am a victim of Sheriff Michael DeLeo’s. I am a victim of those in society as a direct result of his actions as well. The way people look at me sometimes when I am out running errands, I feel as if I am wearing a scarlet letter, and really it’s a Glock 26.”

Hain’s family was also beginning to look at her differently. She noted that, outside of her mother, her family was “not well educated about firearms” and “basically anti-gun.” Additionally, several local families took their children out of the daycare center that Hain ran out of her home as a result of her open carry activism. This represented a distinct setback in OpenCarry.org’s goal to "naturalize the presence of guns, which means that guns become ordinary, omnipresent, and expected. Over time, the gun becomes a symbol of ordinary personhood."

The Devil You Know
Ironically, the greatest threat to Hain at this time was not from outside her home, but from within. Hain’s attorney, Matthew Weisberg, indicated that she had separated from her husband Scott Hain, a parole officer, in early 2009, and wanted to pursue a protective order against him. Jay Bell, a moderator at the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association message board (where Hain’s screen name was “shefearsnothing”), said, “She was telling me at the [Open Carry] dinner in Collegeville she was planning to discuss divorce with her husband, but was afraid he’d react violently.” What exactly transpired between Meleanie Hain and her husband in the days and hours before the shooting is unknown, but it is now clear her fears were justified.

Reacting to the Hain’s murder-suicide, Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said, “We hear about cases like this every day. Eighty people are killed by guns each day [in the United States] … We see every day the effects of gun violence, especially against women. Having a gun in the home makes it 22 times more likely you’ll be killed by that gun instead of it being used on an intruder.” Joe Grace, Executive Director of CeaseFire Pennsylvania, added, “The myth is that you’re safer with a gun … Having a gun did not make Meleanie safer. She and her husband are now deceased … It should give policy-makers pause. It’s time to let go of extreme rhetoric in the name of sanity and common sense.”

In the end, there was one piece of Hain’s rhetoric that seemed prescient. “If children are afraid of guns, that goes back to their parents,” Hain said on November 12, 2008, on the “It’s Your Call” show with Lynn Doyle. “It goes back to what they’re being exposed to at home.” Certainly, no one has suffered worse in this tragedy then the Hain children.