Christine Stuart photo

It would require individuals who are the subject of a temporary restraining order to give up their firearms, but proponents of the legislation say it’s not about the Second Amendment, due process, or guns—it’s about domestic violence victims.

“This bill is not about guns, it’s not about gun control, it’s not a gun confiscation bill,” Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said. “This bill is really not about due process rights, it’s not about the Second Amendment. This bill seeks to improve a legal system,” that has not done enough to protect women and domestic violence victims.

The bill, H.B. 5054, passed the House 104 to 42 after about six hours of debate and four amendments from a divided Republican caucus.

The bill, which involved compromise language drafted with the help of Republicans, would require the subject of a temporary restraining order to transfer their firearms to a federally licensed firearm dealer or give them to a police department. But the time between the time they give up their firearm to the time there is a court hearings would be shortened from 14 days to 7 days. The new language also allows the subject of a temporary restraining order, who had their firearms taken away, to get their firearm back within five days or making the request.

Tong said when he was researching the origins of Connecticut’s temporary restraining laws he came across the case of Tracy Thurman, who lived in Torrington and in 1983 was a victim of domestic violence.

Thurman was repeatedly beaten. She sought a temporary restraining order and afterward her husband showed up at the house and stabbed her multiple times. Thurman survived the attack and later sued Torrington for failing to protect her.

“It appears back then that it was unclear if the restraining order statutes protected women from their spouses or their boyfriends or intimate partners because back then, as late as 1983, it was seen in some communities as permissible or acceptable for a husband to discipline his wife,” Tong said.

Fast forward to May 2014. Lori Jackson was granted a temporary restraining order against her husband, Scott Gellatly.

Gellatly went to Massachusetts and legally purchased a gun which he used to kill Jackson, who had fled to her parents home with their 18-month-old twins. Jackson’s mother, Merry, who was also shot, and her sister, Kacey Mason, came to the Capitol last year to encourage lawmakers to raise a similar bill for a vote.

Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said he doesn’t believe the bill would have prevented the death of Jackson, since the restraining orders were never served on Gellatly because he was out of state. In order for the temporary restraining order to be effective, it has to be served, O’Neill said.

Tong said the bill they’re debating does not fit neatly into the facts of the Jackson case, but what’s important to know here is that Lori Jackson is dead.

“We don’t get a chance to replay that event because she’s gone,” Tong said.

He said Jackson’s case is instructive to what they are doing today.

“The point of the Lori Jackson story is to tell us we need to act,” Tong said.

Women in abusive relationships are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a firearm.

Tong said the bill helps build a legal system that “protects and values the lives of women.”

Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said the bill tries to balance fairness, safety and due process for all individuals who are impacted by the legislation.

Christine Stuart photo

However, the bill debated Wednesday was “not only about domestic violence, but it’s about guns, it’s about due process and the Second Amendment.” She said the reason the legislation has to do with all of those is because all of those are referenced in the legislation.

Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the bill doesn’t consider the possibility that the person who is the subject of the temporary restraining order is also a “victim” because a person could use false pretenses to file a temporary restraining order.

He said the bill is simply “unconstitutional” and amounts to “confiscation.”

But support for the bill was bipartisan even though many Republicans struggled with deciding whether the bill struck the right balance between due process and victims’ rights.

Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, voted in favor of the bill, said, this bill helps clarify how quickly gun owners will get their guns back after a temporary restraining order is denied.

“We clarify the reason why they get their guns back,” O’Dea said. “Not as quick as many of us would like, but they do get them back.” 

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, talked about taking the bullets out of her partner’s gun every night because she felt like she stood a chance against any other weapon.

“If he was going to use the gun, he was going to have to find the bullets,” Porter said talking about her abuser. “I knew my chances of fighting him with any kind of weapon be it a knife, a bat, his fist, a brick. I felt I stood a better chance against any of those instruments.”

Porter said she found the strength to escape that relationship after he shoved her through a glass patio door while she was five months pregnant.

“There is no perfect law,” Porter said. “But our job is to make the law, not to enforce the law.”

Christine Stuart photo

She said lawmakers have to decide who they want to protect: victims or gun owners.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said other than the budget, “it’s the most important bill we’re going to do this year.”

He said it’s something the state can’t ignore and anyone who brings out an amendment on the bill to undermine its intent is a statement “about your position on domestic violence.”

He said they’re not “breaking new ground” here with this law, which is already on the books in at least 20 other states.

A similar measure stalled last year in the Senate with less than 24 hours left in the session. But Democratic legislative leaders are confident it will receive final approval before the May 4 deadline.