SB 83 Passes Senate

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DELAWARE EXTENDS
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTIONS

Senate Bill 83 has passed the Delaware State Senate yesterday on a bipartisan vote of 15 to 6.

The adopted bill — a substitute measure introduced by its prime sponsor, Senator Margaret Rose Henry — will extend the protections afforded under Delaware’s domestic violence laws to victims of dating partner violence and to victims who have fled their homes to escape an abuser.

It will also ensure that abusers surrender their guns when a Protection from Abuse order is in effect.

The Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence (DeCAGV) was instrumental in proposing and passing this important new legislation. Working with Americans for Responsible Solutions, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Center for American Progress, supporters of DeCAGV have added this legislative victory to their previous successes: Delaware’s universal background checks for gun purchases and its requirement to report lost or stolen firearms — both passed in 2013.

SB 83 has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives, but Gov. Jack Markell has indicated that he will sign it when it reaches his desk.

Help us continue our campaign for common sense gun laws that protect families and communities with your financial support for DeCAGV. Click here to make a contribution.

Sorenson
DeCAGV Board Chair Liane Sorenson

“We worked hard to convince members of the Senate that the safety of domestic abuse victims — almost all of whom are women — came first,” said former Republican Senator Liane Sorenson of Yorklyn, chair of the DeCAGV Educational Fund board of directors. “We were not surprised that 15 of 21 senators voted with us. It’s good to see that domestic violence remains a bipartisan issue.”

We thank you, our thousands of supporters, for your postcards, calls, and emails to members of the General Assembly.

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“This Bill Is Worth Passing”

TODAY’S EDITORIAL in the Wilmington News-Journal endorsed SB 83, a bill that will protect domestic abuse victims from gun violence.
EMAIL YOUR STATE SENATOR to urge a vote in favor of this common sense legislation.

READ: Stopping Gun Violence in the Home

The old Hollywood and tabloid newspaper term “crime of passion” may seem quaintly out of date. But there is nothing quaint about passions so out of control that they lead to violence. And, unfortunately, domestic violence is far from out of date.

All too often newspaper headlines tell the news of current and former spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners and even casual acquaintances killing or seriously injuring the person who has been the object of their hatred. It is, of course, a disgrace. However, the victims of abuse and the rest of society are beginning to fight back.

More must be done. One of the commonsense answers is to disarm the aggressors in domestic violence incidents.

More must be done. One of the commonsense answers is to disarm the aggressors in domestic violence incidents. There is a reason courts issue protection orders. Society has come to believe that the person being protected is under a threat.

Already the police, in assessing a violence threat, ask a victim if the partner or ex-partner threatened the victim with a gun. If the answer is yes, the threat is considered real. Courts will intervene after a hearing that protects the rights of all parties. The courts will demand the surrender of a weapon. However, there are lapses in when and how quickly it is done. The procedures for turning in the weapon also need to be codified.

Senate Bill 83, now coming before the Delaware General Assembly, would close these loopholes.

Senate Bill 83, now coming before the Delaware General Assembly, would close these loopholes. The person who threatened a partner now will have to hand over the gun to authorities and show proof that he or she did it. The firearm would be out of the individual’s control during the life of the protection order. The victim, on proving the immediacy of a threat, could get protection.

The bill would expand the legal definition of the term “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to more readily reflect the realities of modern life. The term would now include substantive dating relationships and people who have cohabited at the time of the offense or within 5 years prior to the offense.

The bill also would prohibit an abuser from possessing a firearm or buying one while he or she is subject to an emergency Protection From Abuse order.

Too many incidents are fueled by rage or substance abuse. Why allow someone out of control to have easy access to a firearm?

Of course, the bill will not be able to work miracles. It will not be able to stop all such crimes, all out-of-control actions. No bill could do that. But it will make it harder, less convenient for some rampaging abuser to grab a firearm and use it. How many lives would such a bill save? Many? A few? One? Even if it is just one, the bill is worth passing.

As former State Sen. Liane Sorenson wrote, “Keeping guns away from people who are guilty of domestic abuse makes common sense. It won’t affect our Second Amendment rights, but it will help make our families and communities safer.”

EMAIL YOUR STATE SENATOR to urge him or her to vote in favor of this common sense legislation.

Op-Ed: Reducing abusers’ access to guns will save women’s lives

READ: Liane Sorenson’s op-ed in today’s News Journal.

It’s called the Danger Assessment – and it’s one scary questionnaire. Developed by domestic violence experts at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, it asks 20 yes/no questions to determine the level of danger an abused woman has of being killed by her intimate partner.

Among the questions are:

Have you left him after living together during the past year?

Does he threaten to kill you?

Do you believe he is capable of killing you?

Does he own a gun?

The Danger Assessment has been in use for more than 25 years and there’s now an abbreviated version that helps police officers quickly determine whether a woman is in immediate danger.

The key question is, “Does he own a gun?” That’s because domestic abuse situations are five times more likely to be fatal if the abuser has access to a gun.

The FBI reports that nationally between 2003 and 2012, a third of all women who were murdered were killed by a male intimate partner. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Between 2001 and 2012, 6,410 women in the United States were killed by an intimate partner using a gun – more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

In Delaware, between 1996 and 2013, guns were used in 40 homicides of intimate partners, plus 13 homicides of other people in domestic-violence incidents (family members, children, and bystanders killed in these shootings). Guns were also used in 17 domestic violence-related suicides.

The bottom line: Reducing abusers’ access to guns will save women’s lives.

This is exactly what SB 83, which will have a hearing this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is intended to do. To close loopholes in existing protections for domestic abuse victims, it would:

 Prohibit gun possession or purchases by an abuser while he or she is subject to an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

 Prohibit gun possession by a person convicted of misdemeanor dating-partner violence within the previous five years.

 Prohibit gun possession by a person convicted of a violent misdemeanor against a former cohabitant (person who lived with the perpetrator) during the previous five years.

 Ensure that domestic abusers surrender their guns by requiring them to inform the court that they have done so.

 Codify procedures for the surrender of weapons to law enforcement, including safe storage and eventual return when the person is no longer prohibited.

A 2014 report from the Delaware Domestic Violence Fatal Incident Review Team noted that almost half of intimate-partner homicides in Delaware occurred when the victim attempted to leave or had ended the relationship with the abuser. That’s why it makes sense to remove guns from these volatile situations immediately upon issuance of an ex parte order.

A domestic abuse victim who seeks a PFA order may be granted a temporary “ex parte” order to cover the period before a formal hearing – but only after a judge carefully evaluates the complainant’s sworn testimony and finds “immediate and present danger.” Generally ex parte orders last no more than 10 days, at which point a full hearing occurs. SB 83 would prohibit the purchase of a gun by someone during the period when he or she is subject to an ex parte PFA order.

Under current law, when PFA orders are issued, a court may order the abuser to surrender temporarily her/his firearms. SB 83 extends that protection to the critical period between the issuance of an ex parte order and the formal hearing of the complaint.

The ex parte process is meant to prevent a violent crime and does not usurp anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Nor does the surrender of guns violate the due-process rights of the abuser. Courts have repeatedly upheld the procedures for domestic violence protective orders, including ex parte orders, against due process challenges.

The bill also states that the abuser must turn over these weapons immediately upon the request of a law enforcement officer or, if no request is made, within 24 hours at a staffed police station. It establishes procedures to ensure these orders are followed by requiring the abuser to report to the court that they have surrendered any firearms and ammunition.

Keeping guns away from people who are guilty of domestic abuse is makes common sense. It won’t affect our Second Amendment rights, but it will help make our families and communities safer.

When a woman’s Danger Assessment is in the red zone – when she is at the greatest risk of lethal violence – she needs SB 83’s protections to help keep guns away from her abuser. We should close these loopholes to prevent gun-related death or injury at the most vulnerable times in an abused woman’s life.

A former counselor at CHILD Inc. and director of women’s affairs at the University of Delaware, Liane Sorenson served for 20 years as a Republican state legislator. She is a founder of the Delaware Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and currently chairs the board of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence Educational Fund.