Editorial from CAGV Communications Director Jonathan Perloe

“I still see those empty orange running shoes in my dreams. What those two bullets took away. I miss her.”

These are the words a friend used to begin the story of his niece’s murder. Rebecca had just broken up with her then college boyfriend. He was a legally licensed gun owner. He didn’t have a history of physical or emotional abuse against Rebecca. But the day she broke off the relationship she was scared enough to phone the police after her ex called to say he was driving down to see her one last time. The police interviewed him and concluded he was not dangerous. He ended up going back to his car to retrieve his .357 Magnum. He went to her dorm room, shot her twice in the face then took his own life.

Women are five times more likely to be killed when her abuser has access to a gun.

Ebony’s estranged boyfriend came to the bingo parlor where she was hanging out with friends. He said, “If I can’t have her, you can’t have her either” then shot Ebony to death. Ebony’s ex had a history of domestic violence. Just 10 days earlier he was arrested for severely beating Ebony. He had a prior conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence. But under South Carolina law he was still legally allowed to own firearms.

Connecticut has its own illogical gun law. Under our current domestic violence protection law an alleged abuser who is subject to a temporary restraining order (TRO) is allowed to keep and buy guns even though the standard for a judge to issue a TRO is the likelihood of the victim facing “immediate and present physical harm.” During 2015 there were more than 40,000 reported incidents of domestic violence in Connecticut. It’s believed that many more are never reported to law enforcement.

In 2014 the TRO gun safety loophole arguably cost Lori Jackson of Oxford, CT her life. The day before the hearing to consider making the temporary restraining order permanent Lori’s estranged husband shot and killed her.

Those opposing restrictions on gun ownership claim abusers will find other ways to kill their intimate partners. Perhaps. But the outcome is much less likely to be lethal. Domestic assaults carried out with firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than when other weapons are used.

Governor Malloy understands the dangers of firearms in situations of domestic violence. Last year he made good on his 2014 campaign promise to introduce legislation to prohibit subjects of TROs from possessing guns. The bill was passed in the Senate with not a single vote to spare. The vote was slightly bipartisan: two Republicans voted yes while four Democrats voted no along with the other 13 Republicans. But the bill was never brought to the House for a vote. It got caught in down-to-the-wire negotiating to get the budget passed.

This year Gov. Malloy has again brought forward a bill to close the TRO loophole. HB5054, An Act to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence, was moved favorably out of the Judiciary Committee on an almost party-line vote. One Democrat joined all the Republicans in voting against the measure.

Last month Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention group led by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, commissioned a survey of CT voters. It shows that 86 percent of us believe abusers under restraining orders, temporary or permanent, should not have access to guns. But as the previous votes demonstrate, passage of HB5054 is not assured. Sadly, most Republican and some Democratic lawmakers are not in synch with the electorate. Unless the 86 percent make their position known, the bill may not pass.

If you believe that abusers who put their partners in “immediate and present physical danger” should not be armed you must contact your state Senator and Representative to urge them to vote to yes on HB5054. Go to openstates.org to find your state legislators’ contact information.

Then there’s Alisha. She left her persistently emotionally abusive husband in the spring of 2013. Although she had received an emergency order of protection the judge denied her application for a permanent restraining order on the basis there was no physical or sexual abuse. The husband stalked her for six months then showed up one day at her office. She tried to escape, but he shot her in the leg. Then he shot her three times in the stomach. His final shot came as she lay in the elevator. It hit her neck and severed her spine. Then he took his own life. Alisha was left a quadriplegic. But showing courage far beyond the lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby, Alisha works hard everyday to regain movement in her paralyzed limbs saying, “I am a fighter; I have already exceeded expectations.”

How could any lawmaker be against this gun safety measure?  Sadly, there are many critics of HB5054. Their central argument is that the bill violates due process because the abuser’s firearms have to be relinquished prior to having a hearing before a judge (which must occur within 14 days of the TRO being served).

Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-47th District) who is vehemently against the bill insisted last year and again this year that such a measure would be “an extreme violation of someone’s due process rights.” The CT Citizens Defense League (CCDL), an uncompromising gun rights organization went further claiming, “Today, Connecticut lawmakers are debating a bill that would take us back to the days when the government trampled our rights and freedoms.” The CCDL is referring, of course, to British rule over the colonies.

Rep. Dubitsky and his like-minded colleagues are choosing to disregard unambiguous case law. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a highly respected authority on gun laws staffed by attorneys, completed a thorough brief on the topic of ex parte orders. It found that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, in Blazel v. Bradley, provides the most complete constitutional analysis of whether or when an ex parte domestic violence restraining order violates due process.

The court found that due process requires either a pre-deprivation hearing or a minimum of four procedural safeguards: (1) participation by a judicial officer, (2) a prompt post-deprivation hearing, (3) verified petitions or affidavits containing detailed allegations based on personal knowledge and (4) risk of immediate and irreparable harm. HB5054 includes all four procedural safeguards.

Based on its research, the Law Center could find no case in which a “court has ruled that an ex parte domestic violence order violates due process.” It further noted that many of the state TRO laws include provisions for restricting gun ownership. Again, it could not find a single case where the court even expressed reservations about the restrictions on Second Amendment rights. The CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence documented 20 states with some provision for restricting gun ownership prior to issuing an order of protection. Not a single one has been overturned.

In their continuing disregard for the very Supreme Court opinion that handed them the individual right to bear arms, gun rights activists and their protectors in the General Assembly refuse to acknowledge that in Heller Justice Scalia wrote, “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.” With due respect to the Second Amendment, victims of domestic abuse have the right not to be shot by their abusers. The government also has the responsibility to keep its citizens safe.

Three days after Courtney accepted her boyfriend’s marriage proposal (despite her misgivings at the time) they went to a movie. The boyfriend’s behavior was excessively possessive that evening. So much so that when they were back at her house Courtney concluded she had to get out, immediately. But he blocked her exit, armed with a pistol.

First the fiancé tried to kill Courtney’s cat by hurling her at the wall. Courtney told him that she couldn’t be with someone like him. Sensing his loss of control, the trigger for many domestic assaults, he responded, “You’re all I have.”

He fired the first two bullets, tearing through her arm and leaving her jaw “filled with pieces of bone, teeth and bullet fragments.” Courtney managed to escape. But not from horrific injuries. She spent most of her twenties in the hospital, can no longer play the piano (she is a musician) and has chronic pain. Like so many of the victims of gun violence I know, Courtney uses her courage and compassion to help other victims. “Now I sing for myself and for the hundreds of thousands of domestic violence victims throughout the world.”

Domestic abuse is often a manifestation of the need to exert control over an intimate partner. That’s why the time just after a victim shows her resolve to break ties with her abuser is the most dangerous and likely time for violent retaliation.

Serving an abuser with a temporary restraining order is like throwing fuel on a fire. That’s why we need HB5054 to disarm abusers as soon as practical, consistent with the Blazel safeguards. Tell your legislators you’re one of the #CT86percent who believe domestic abusers should not have firearms.

Jonathan Perloe

Director of Communications, CT Against Gun Violence