The Mountain Times

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Gov. Shumlin, domestic violence advocates call for tougher enforcement of protection orders

Joined by advocates in the fight against domestic violence, key legislators, law enforcement and others, Gov. Peter Shumlin has called for legislative changes to help guarantee the secure lock-up of weapons while relief from abuse orders are in effect.
"This proposal will enable us to enforce existing law and keep weapons out of the hands of abusers during a time when emotions are very high," Shumlin said. Turning to the broad spectrum of supporters attending a news conference at the State House, he added, "Our first priority is to protect Vermonters from violence. That has been the shared commitment of everyone who has worked so hard on this proposal."

Currently, federal law and the terms of state court relief from abuse orders prohibit domestic violence defendants from possessing firearms while the order is in effect. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of facilities for storing the weapons. The Governor will seek legislation requiring those court-specified weapons to be turned over to law enforcement when a restraining order is served, and permitting sheriffs and court-approved federally licensed firearm dealers to charge defendants a reasonable fee to store their weapons while the order is in place.

The Governor said many sheriffs would like to store these firearms now, but lack the space or resources to do so. "The goal is to give law enforcement and professional dealers the means to take control of the storage of firearms while protection orders are in effect, instead of letting abusers hand them over to a friend or family member, or worse, hold on to them."

"This is a critically important step forward in seeking to take firearms out of the hands of people who Vermont courts have deemed to be a danger to their partners and family members," said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, Executive Director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "Given the level of terrible domestic violence that Vermont has witnessed this summer, it feels even more pressing to do everything we can to make sure that abusers don't have access to guns. This is especially true since national research demonstrates that the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent."

Tronsgard-Scott noted that Vermont's Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission has recommended legislation in this vein in order to remedy a dangerous gap in our current response. "We are grateful to the Governor and his staff and our legislative leadership for taking this issue so seriously, and for their commitment to ending the epidemic of domestic violence in our communities." Tronsgard-Scott noted. "We look forward to working together to pass this legislation quickly."

Key legislative leaders also voiced support for the legislation.

"Supporting the Governor on this issue does not require deep thinking. There is no rational reason for the perpetrator of domestic violence to be allowed to possess a firearm while a Relief from Abuse Order is in place," said Senator John Campbell, President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate. "With over half of Vermont's domestic violence homicides committed by firearms, it's time for people in Vermont to recognize the correlation between possession and access to weapons in cases of domestic disputes and fatality rates."

"With the safety of domestic abuse victims in mind, this proposal is a responsible way to manage the storage of firearms so that abusers do not legally have access to them," said House Speaker Shap Smith.

"I look forward to working with the Governor and his administration to pass this important legislation as Vermont continues to be a leader in preventing domestic violence," said Sen. Richard Sears, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Shumlin said the Administration will also seek $75,000 to create a revolving loan fund to assist with creating storage facilities. Sheriffs or court-approved federally licensed dealers that receive a loan would pay the State back over time through revenue from the fee and sale of firearms in the event fees are not paid.