The legislature’s Judiciary Committee debated two bills Monday that would require a person who is the subject of a temporary restraining order to relinquish their firearms.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers who support the measure say it’s about protecting domestic violence victims and not about guns.
But gun owners say it’s a violation of their Second Amendment rights to have their firearm taken away while they wait for a judge to make a decision on a temporary restraining order.
Second Amendment supporters argue that the restraining order process doesn’t require them to appear in court, which means the court only receives testimony from one party. The person requesting the restraining order only has to swear to an affidavit and that affidavit is presented to a judge who makes a determination based on that written testimony.
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he spent a lot of time last year listening to the concerns of gun owners and revising the legislation.
Last year, attempts to pass similar legislation failed despite those last-minute changes.
However, those changes were incorporated in this year’s bill. One change would allow individuals, such as police, who need their guns to do their jobs, receive an expedited hearing. A second change would make sure gun owners get their firearms back in a timely manner if the temporary restraining order gets denied.
But those changes weren’t enough to persuade Second Amendment groups, like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, to support the legislation.
Scott Wilson, president of the CCDL, said “they’re saying it’s not about guns, but it’s about guns.”
Wilson worries that a person could make a false claim against a spouse or a partner in order to gain an advantage over custody or control of property or children.
Second Amendment supporters argued that the state already has a law on the books that would protect domestic violence victims from their abuser.
But Tong rejected the idea that the risk warrant law, which is a criminal proceeding, was a better solution. He said a risk warrant would require probable cause to be met before a warrant is issued and is an “imperfect solution.”
A risk warrant requires that either a state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, or any two police officers seek a warrant from a judge when they believe that any person “poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals.” The legislation being debated Monday would mean a judge would be asked to order the surrender of firearms within 24 hours when facing a temporary restraining order because the applicant faces “immediate and present physical danger.”
Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the risk warrant is not the best solution for domestic violence victims. She said victims are entering the civil court because they don’t want to involve law enforcement for fear it will inflame the situation.
Jarmoc pointed to a 2015 national survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline that found more than half of the victims surveyed stated that turning to the police would make things worse, with several victims frequently citing fear of reprisal by their abuser.
Second Amendment supporters also expressed concern about the 14 days it could take a judge to rule on a temporary restraining order.
“The proposed legislation is punitive in nature and against all principles of due process,” James Crook, of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said in his written testimony.
Malloy proposed the legislation after the death of Lori Jackson, a Connecticut resident who was shot and killed by her husband after she had obtained a temporary restraining order against him.
Jackson, then an employee of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, was shot and killed in 2014 just days before a court hearing on the restraining order she had filed against her husband. Her married name was Lori Gellatly. She was 32 when she was murdered. Her estranged husband, Scott Gellatly, was accused of the crime and also of shooting Jackson’s mother, Merry, four times.
Jackson’s family came to the state Capitol last year in an attempt to get lawmakers to raise the legislation before the session adjourned.
A poll released Monday by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, found 86 percent of Connecticut voters believe that people subject to both permanent and temporary restraining orders due to domestic violence should not have access to firearms.
“Common sense steps like keeping guns out of the hands of people subject to temporary restraining orders won’t prevent every tragedy, but it will prevent some — and the people of Connecticut agree that’s worth it,” Hayley Zachary, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, said.
According to the State Police Crimes Analysis Unit, Connecticut has averaged 14 intimate partner homicides annually since 2000 and firearms were the single most commonly used weapon, used in 39 percent of the homicides.
Another bill debated Monday includes similar language regarding temporary restraining orders, but also seeks to terminate the parental rights of a rapist and raises awareness about human trafficking.