New Vt. law aims to keep guns from abusers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New Vt. law aims to keep guns from abusers

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - Domestic violence destroys families and changes lives forever, just ask Cassondra Gray.

"He kept telling her he was going to kill her and at the time, we just thought he was all talk," Cassondra said.

Gray's mother, Rhonda Gray, filed restraining orders against her husband, Troy, after years of abuse. But it didn't keep him away.

"It got to the point where he would hide in closets and he would hide in clothes and behind doors and just sit in the dark," Cassondra said.

With assault charges already on his record, a judge ordered Troy Gray's firearms be turned over to his brother. He did. But not long after, Troy got the guns back. And on the morning of Aug. 13, he acted on the threat that kept his stepchildren and wife living in fear. He killed Rhonda in their home before taking his own life.

"I got to the top of the stairs and all I could see was blood splattered all over the top. Before I turned the corner, I was like OK, I can do this. So I get there and I can see him and my first reaction is oh my God, this really just happened," Cassondra said.

The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has been working for years to tighten laws to make sure offenders don't get their hands on firearms once a state court has ordered them to turn over their weapons.

Police departments expressed a need for more space to store confiscated guns and worried about maintenance costs. But now, the Firearm Storage Initiative allows departments and licensed dealers to charge perpetrators a fee to offset those costs. Family members who agree to take responsibility for those firearms will now also be held legally responsible if the firearm ends up back in the hands of the abuser.

"This is not a matter of creating new laws about guns in the state, this is really a matter of enforcing existing law and figuring out how do we take firearms out of the hands of people who are going to use them to hurt those closest to them and who a state court has said should not have them in the first place," said Sarah Kenney, of the Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Vermont averages six homicides a year as a result of domestic violence. Half of those are committed with a firearm.

The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs says it supports the initiative.

But Rep. Don Turner is concerned about how the measure was slipped into another bill. He says the gun storage initiative was quietly added to a bill that outlines fees for many state government operations, and therefore, guaranteed its passage.

"Now that it's law, I don't have any intention and I'm sure none of my caucus members have any intention in changing it. But what we will do is work with more transparency when dealing with these gun issues going forward," said Turner, R-Minority Leader.

For the four children Rhonda Gray left behind, the firearm storage initiative is an important step to help end domestic violence, and they say it has the power to save the life of someone like their mom.

"At least now I know that there can be other women saved," Cassondra said.

Kenney says they are still working on how the new initiative will be implemented at various police departments throughout the state.

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