Should guns be removed when protection orders are issued?

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Lawmakers in Montpelier heard from Vermonters on Tuesday evening about a new firearms bill. This one is intended to protect people who are trying to get help in abusive relationships. But as our Cat Viglienzoni reports, some say it goes too far.

Rhonda Gray, Fairlee, August 2013; Annette Lumumba, South Burlington, May 2018; Courtney Gaboriault, Barre, July 2018: Three Vermont women all shot and killed by their partners after seeking help from abusive relationships.

"That was the point at which the murder was carried out," said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, the executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Assault.

Tronsgard-Scott says when the victim tries to leave or seeks a relief from abuse order, they're the most at risk.

"This is the most dangerous point. If there are firearms in this home at this really dangerous point, there's a five times greater likelihood that someone will be killed," Tronsgard-Scott said.

That's why she's lobbying for lawmakers this session to pass a bill that would require suspected abusers to turn over their guns and not acquire any more from when a relief from abuse order is issued until it expires. Right now, police can ask for weapons to be turned over at the scene of a crime but they don't have to. She says that doesn't protect victims enough.

"There's a short list of things that we can do that will exponentially change the risk for survivors of domestic violence. This is number one on that list," Tronsgard-Scott said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: And what about the people who say these are my firearms. I have not committed any crime with them yet. Therefore, you should not allow the law to remove them from me for any length of time?
Karen Tronsgard-Scott: If we could interrupt that moment where someone is thinking, 'I've got a gun and I'm going to use it,' and give them the opportunity to think more long-term, then wouldn't it be worth it?

"An individual right to lawfully owned firearms for self-defense in the home is something that's far too cherished to give up without due process," said Bill Moore, the firearms policy director for the Vermont Traditions Coalition.

The Vermont Traditions Coalition hopes Vermonters will show up to oppose the bill, which they say is a reach.

"This is hijacking that statute for purposes it's not intended for," Moore said.

Moore says they believe the law already has enough protections in place to remove guns from people who are considered dangerous.

"This creates an express lane around due process, around the courts, and leaves the person without even the ability to refuse to comply to the order without being charged with an additional crime," Moore said.

He says they would appeal the bill if it becomes law.

Advocates argue that the relief from abuse process requires the victim to submit to the court evidence that they are being abused.

The hearing goes until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Six years ago, voters in Burlington approved a similar measure allowing police to seize guns from suspected domestic abusers. Because it was a change in the city charter, it needed approval from the Legislature. But lawmakers declined to take up the measure, some telling us at the time that gun laws should be addressed statewide, not on a town by town basis.