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Vt. police struggle with space for confiscated firearms - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. police struggle with space for confiscated firearms

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WASHINGTON, Vt. -

Elsie Griffith says an abusive marriage stole 48 years of her life.

"I used to tell the kids, the only way I'm going to be free from your father is if he's dead or I'm dead," she said.

In 2009, the abuse left Elsie in the hospital with torn ligaments. A nurse asked her the question that would change her life forever.

"She says, 'Are you abused?' I said, 'Yes.' She said, 'Would you like some help?' I said, 'I would love some help,'" Elsie said.

The nonprofit Have Justice Will Travel Program offered to help Elsie. In August, Elsie's husband, Everett Griffith, was served with a temporary relief from abuse order to stay away from her and turn his guns over to the court. They were then placed in the custody of his son. A few months later, Everett violated his restraining order and broke into Elsie's home with a gun as she frantically dialed 911.

"He had a pistol and I says, 'Oh boy, he's here to kill me,'" Elsie said. "He came in and sat on the bed. I went to reach for the phone and he says, 'Don't worry about that, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm gonna commit suicide and you're gonna watch,'" Elsie said.

That night marked the last moment Elsie would see Everett alive.

"He put the gun up to his head and he shot himself," she said.

The Vermont Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission hopes for tougher laws to keep guns away from anyone served a relief from abuse restraining order. They also hope to see more storage space to help police get guns out of the hands of abusers. Griffith was also a felon and should have never had access to guns, according to federal law. Placing guns in the custody of family members is an option many police departments consider when there's no place to store them.

"In certain felony situations, a firearm can be transferred to the state to be destroyed. Other times, when it's an abuse prevention order and extended order, which may be in effect for up to a year, we may go back to the court and ask them to have a hearing to determine is there someone else appropriate that these firearms can go to," Washington County Sheriff Sam Hill explained.

But sometimes that option can be deadly.

"It's also just not a secure way to keep firearms out of the hands of someone who poses a threat to their family members, so it's obviously not an ideal solution," said Sarah Kenney, the associate director for public policy at the Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence.

The Center for Crime Victim Services made a grant available last year to police departments interested in building their own storage unit. With the concerns of liability, no one applied. Kenney plans to explore other options later this summer and hopes to see a solution that protects victims, but also respects the rights of gun owners.

"We're not talking about sweeping firearms legislation," Kenney said. "We're talking about just figuring out how when a state court has said you pose a threat to your family and therefore shouldn't have guns, how are we going to be able to get those firearms from those people and store them in a way that is safe for the community, safe for the victim and recognizes that perpetrator's rights to have them back?"

The next step for Elsie is recovery through therapy and art.

"All I focus on is the paintings," she said. "I get lost in that. That helps me."

But like many victims of domestic violence and other gun crimes, the best way to help is to get guns away from offenders.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department did make it clear that although space is limited, they will always remove guns the court orders confiscated, but making storage space and avoiding the option of placing the weapon in the custody of a family member has been a looming problem for their department, as well as Burlington Police and Essex Police.

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