Christine Stuart
With attention focused on the state budget debate, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is turning up the heat on the Connecticut legislature to act on a bill to address domestic violence and guns.

Gifford believes the provisions in the bill could have saved the life of a 32-year-old Oxford woman shot by her estranged husband while their two children slept upstairs.

The bill would close a loophole that allows subjects of ex parte restraining orders to buy and own firearms and ammunition. “Ex parte” refers to cases in which a judge issues a temporary restraining order after hearing from just one side who claims immediate and present danger.

Opponents say the bill violates the constitutional right to due process.

Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun violence prevention organization. She has made two trips to Connecticut in eight months to promote “common sense” solutions to gun violence. She released a statement Monday.

“During my visits to Connecticut, I was moved by the stories of domestic violence survivors and public safety officials calling for life-saving protections for vulnerable women and their families,” Giffords said. “I was also inspired by the leaders of the legislature who stood with me and committed they would prohibit abusers subject to temporary restraining orders from accessing guns — a law that could have protected Lori Jackson. There is never a better time than now to pass a law that will save a life. I urge Speaker Sharkey and President Looney to move quickly to send a bill to Governor Malloy.”

The bill would require the subject of an ex-parte restraining order to relinquish any firearms and ammunition after being notified of the order.

The bill also changes requirements for subjects of all types of restraining orders — civil restraining orders, civil protection orders, criminal protective orders, or foreign orders of protection — by shortening the amount of time within which they must hand over their weapons from two business days to 24 hours.

Currently, the law leaves access to firearms in temporary restraining order cases up to a judge at a hearing that may be held as many as two weeks after the initial order is issued.

State Judicial Branch statistics show 291 ex parte temporary restraining orders were issued between July 1, 2013, and June 20, 2014, for cases in which the written application showed allegations concerning firearms. Thirty-three were issued after a hearing in which at least one of the parties was present, and 282 were issued in cases that included both an ex parte application and a hearing.

In March, a group of Republican lawmakers held a press conference and issued a release to promote alternative ideas to address domestic violence while maintaining second amendment rights. The group’s primary suggestion was to shorten the maximum 14-day period between the court’s receipt of a restraining order application and the hearing date when a judge ultimately grants or rejects the order.

According to the Judicial Branch website, the process begins when a restraining order application for relief from abuse is received by the court. A judge then reviews the application and affidavit and issues a temporary ex parte restraining order that remains in effect until the hearing. A judge can also deny the application, instead granting an Order for Hearing and Notice Summons.

State Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the legislation would create another group of victims in gun owners by taking away their constitutional right to bear arms. “The bills proposed by the Governor and Democrats ignore the rule of law by abridging long established constitutional protections. Worse, they fail at their stated goal of helping to reduce domestic violence,” he said.

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, illustrated his concerns with a hypothetical question.

“If an abused woman has a firearm to protect herself from her violent estranged partner, do we really want to give the abuser an opportunity to have her protective firearm taken from her without due process?” Dubitsky said. “If he files for a temporary restraining order, she should be able to appear before a judge to explain why leaving her defenseless would be wrong before any action is taken.”

According to a 2013 report of the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, 175 people in the state of Connecticut were killed by an intimate partner between 2000 and 2011. Of those, 38 percent were committed with a gun. In 2010, more than 90 percent of Connecticut domestic violence homicide victims were women.