Is Colorado’s New Domestic Violence Gun Law Fair?

by David Faltz on December 18, 2013

Domestic Violence

After you’ve handled a fair share of domestic violence cases, you start to realize how emotionally charged they tend to be – on both sides. The individuals involved are often related by blood or in a romantic relationship, so there’s a history and closeness that escalate problems and makes people do stupid things. Because of this, the last thing anyone wants lying around is a weapon that might allow someone to take matters into their own hands. Where domestic violence is concerned, a loaded gun is like holding a lit match over a room that’s already been doused with gasoline.

So it makes sense why lawmakers passed Senate Bill 197 back in June, which requires anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime or who has gotten a court-imposed protection order to get rid of any guns and ammunition they own. How are they supposed to do this? There are two options:

1)      Sell or transfer their firearms to another person via legal methods.

2)      Temporarily hand their firearms over to law enforcement officials while the court order stands.

Does Getting Rid of Guns Make Domestic Violence Victims Safer?

Domestic Violence Victims

While every situation has its own set of particular circumstances, in general the answer is yes, and there are a lot of statistics to back that up. Here is just a sample of the evidence out there suggesting that guns and domestic violence don’t mix:

  • Two-thirds of all women who die from the use of a firearm are killed by intimate partners
  • Someone is 12 times more likely to die in a domestic violence dispute involving a gun
  • Women abused by someone with a gun are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser
  • Abusers who own guns tend to hurt their victims more than non-gun owners
  • Women are 7.2 times more likely to become domestic homicide victims if there’s a gun in the house
  • More than a third of all female domestic violence victims in California were threatened with a gun
  • When abusers owned a gun, it was used to threaten victims in two-thirds of cases.

These statistics were culled from a variety of resources. If you would like to see them out for yourself, check out the following sites:

SmartGunLaws

FuturesWithoutViolence

Bureau of Justice Statistics on Family Violence

Violence Policy Center

So it’s pretty hard to argue against a policy that keeps guns away from situations where domestic violence allegedly exists. That general idea would seem to be a sound way to protect people and save lives – especially the lives of women.

But it’s not the general idea that most opponents are up in arms about – it’s the way the law is being implemented.

Safety Not the Issue – Implementation Is

Everyone wants to do everything in their power to keep victims of domestic violence safe, and removing guns from the equation can definitely help with this. However, the problem many people are running into with Senate Bill 197 is the part where those who have been accused are required to turn their firearms over to officials to comply with the court order. Despite this requirement being written into law, many organizations are simply refusing to take the guns, including law enforcement agencies.

Case in point – don’t bother trying to take your guns to Gunnison or San Miguel county sheriffs for holding. “Our evidence locker,” says Sheriff Bill Masters, “is already full.” Delta and Montrose police have been giving their citizens a similar answer. According to Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn, his department only wants to collect firearms from people “if it’s evidence… but if it’s not related to a crime, we don’t want it.”

Policies like these have made it tough for people who are required by the new law to turn over their guns, but there’s not much that anyone can do to sway organizations or force them into taking their guns. As far as the law is concerned, it’s completely legal for these groups to refuse firearms and ammunition.

This is something that is completely unfair, because the statute doesn’t allow for scenarios in which someone is thwarted from their attempt to comply with the law. If you don’t get rid of your guns and ammunition – regardless of whether there’s anywhere for you to take them legally – you can end up facing charges for contempt of court.But aren’t the organizations that are refusing to take the firearms the ones who are really showing contempt for the court order?

Gun Law

Making It a Gun Rights Issue Isn’t the Answer

Currently, there are a lot of gun advocates out there making this into an issue over the Second Amendment. It’s easy to understand why. The person most responsible for the new law, Representative Evie Hudak, made headlines this past year for “berating” a female assault victim. The woman disagreed with Hudak’s gun restrictions and was testifying as a witness. She argued that her assault would have gone differently if she had a gun, to which Hudak replied: “statistics are not on your side… the Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence says that [for] every one woman who used a handgun in self-defense, 83 here are killed by them.”

Fallout has helped opponents to oust two of Hudak’s Democratic allies from their seats and attempt a recall against her, but none of that actually addresses the problems inherent in the law itself. If we want those accused of domestic violence to give up their firearms (a fairly reasonable request!), then we need to make sure they are able to do so in a reasonable manner. Clearly, the issue of availability was not one that was given full consideration when lawmakers were crafting the new law. Hopefully, it’s something that cooler heads will be able to address in the next legislative session.

Unfortunately,that doesn’t help anyone currently fighting domestic violence charges. If you’ve received a court order to give up your firearms and aren’t sure where to turn, contact local law enforcement or an authorized dealer in your area.

Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.

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