Each year in Connecticut, victims of domestic violence file an average of 9,000 applications for restraining orders. Victims’ advocates, law enforcement and judges all recognize that a woman is most at risk for being injured or killed when she first tries to leave an abusive relationship.
This makes her particularly vulnerable in the time between the granting of the temporary restraining order and the court hearing which may determine that a more permanent protection is needed. Unfortunately, our courts currently have no explicit authority to order the removal of firearms during this volatile interim period.
Fortunately, two bills making their way through the General Assembly address this life-threatening gap in our current public policy.
If passed, Senate Bill 650 and House Bill 6848 would greatly expand protections for victims of domestic violence by ensuring that if a judge determines a victim is in imminent danger and grants a temporary restraining order, all firearms must be taken away from the person being served with the order.
According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), a woman is five times more likely to be killed if her abuser has access to a firearm. Each year in Connecticut, an average of 14 intimate partner homicides occur, and firearms are used in more than one-third (39 percent) of them.
Although men are sometimes victimized by their partners, the CCADV reports that of the 188 intimate partner homicides that took place in Connecticut between 2000 and 2012, nearly 90 percent were committed against women.
At least 20 other states recognize the danger of allowing guns to remain in the home during this time, and state laws that prohibit firearm possession by persons subject to restraining orders reduce rates of intimate partner homicide of women by 12-13 percent. We see these laws, therefore, as having the potential to greatly increase women’s health and safety.
As the law now stands, a temporary (ex parte) restraining order provides short-term protection to a victim of domestic abuse, and may include an order for the defendant to move out. The proposed laws recognize that the two-week period between the time the order is requested and a hearing is scheduled can be a time of heightened vulnerability. Surely, removing any firearms present is just common sense; at best it may prevent the murder of someone’s mother, daughter or sister, and at worst is a minor inconvenience to the accused.
One of the greatest aspects to public policy is its fluidity; when society changes, laws change in response. It’s time Connecticut closed a dangerous and unnecessary loophole that jeopardizes women’s safety and security in the home.
Carolyn Treiss is executive director of the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.