HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is reviving legislation that would bar people under a temporary restraining order from possessing firearms.
Despite strong support last year from the Democratic governor, advocates for domestic violence victims and former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a similar bill failed in the General Assembly amid questions about whether it was needed, in light of an existing law on the books.
Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she’s optimistic the new legislation being offered by Malloy will pass this year because proponents have research to bolster their case.
“This isn’t just hearsay,” she said, adding how the policy “is supported in 20 other states across our country and we fully anticipate this is going to save lives.”
Over the past two years, more than a dozen states have strengthened laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. It is a rare and growing area of consensus in the nation’s polarized debate over gun rights.
An average of 690 Americans were killed with guns annually by their spouses, ex-spouses and dating partners from 2006 to 2014, according to an Associated Press analysis of FBI data. That figure is an undercount because not all departments voluntarily report the information.
In Connecticut, the data show there were 44 firearm-related domestic violence homicides from 2006 to 2014. Because the state’s registry of restraining orders is not available to the public, it’s unclear how many of those cases involved a victim with an order against their abuser.
Malloy’s revised bill makes a person briefly ineligible to possess firearms and ammunition after being notified they are the subject of a temporary restraining order pending a hearing in court. That person then has 24 hours to transfer the guns and ammunition to authorities. Currently, after a temporary restraining order is issued, a hearing must be held before a judge can issue a permanent restraining order and prohibit a person from possessing a firearm. That process can take a couple of weeks, which can be a vulnerable time for victims.
“It’s just amazing how fragile those two weeks are,” said Kacey Jackson, whose sister Lori Jackson Gellatly was killed by her estranged husband in May 2014 as she was trying to obtain a restraining order. He was never served.
Malloy’s bill attempts to improve the process of serving the orders to people with weapons, such as allowing state marshals to request a police officer to accompany them.
Scott Wilson Sr., president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said his organization is concerned about the due process aspects of the bill, including proposed penalties for not transferring the firearms within 24 hours. He acknowledged, however, that the bill appears to be a “marked improvement” from last year’s bill. It now includes language that calls for a firearm permit to be reinstated to individuals who have a temporary restraining order vacated.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said he’s still not convinced the new legislation is necessary given a 1999 statute that created “risk warrants,” which allow law enforcement to seize firearms from someone deemed to pose “a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals” after obtaining a warrant.
“It’s been working well for a long time,” said O’Neill, contending it’s a faster way to remove guns from someone considered dangerous.
A memorandum prepared for Jarmoc’s organization by the Battered Women’s Justice Project in Minneapolis determined risk warrants may be useful for some individuals but could put others at risk because a victim is required to report their abuser to law enforcement.
“Contacting the police is not always in the best interest of the victim nor is it always safe,” the report warns, adding how some fear going to the police could worsen the situation or lead to reprisals.
___AP Data Journalist Meghan Hoyer contributed to this report.