When a domestic violence abuser has access to a gun, the risk of homicide for women rises by 500%. Guns were the cause of death in 74% of all domestic violence homicides in Maryland from July, 2013 through June, 2014.
Domestic violence gun homicides are preventable
Many domestic violence deaths are preventable. One of the key ways to prevent needless deaths is to ensure that convicted domestic violence offenders have no access to guns. Judges in domestic violence courtrooms have a critical role to play. Yet judges in Montgomery County tell convicted DV offenders less than 1% of the time that, under Maryland law, they must turn in their guns!
Federal and Maryland law both disqualify certain convicted offenders from purchasing or possessing guns. Maryland’s gun laws are one of our country’s most comprehensive. But our state’s gun laws mean little if they are not applied by the courts. Maryland’s courts can help prevent domestic violence homicides by simply implementing current Maryland gun laws. Every judge should warn convicted offenders that they must immediately turn in guns. Judges should make clear that failing to turn in guns can lead to mandatory jail sentences of five years. There is currently no process for tracking whether offenders are complying — and that is incredibly dangerous.
Court Watch Montgomery volunteers observed 561 criminal domestic violence hearings in our District Courts over a one year period. What we found was stark and disturbing. Judges virtually never warned convicted offenders to turn in guns. No adequate written notice was given.
Court Watch worked hard in Annapolis in 2015 to push for improvements in the enforcement provisions in Maryland’s gun law that would require judges to notify convicted DV offenders that they must turn in all guns, inform them of penalties, and monitor compliance. The bill would have specified, for the first time, that all guns must be turned in within 48 hours.
Court Watch Montgomery’s 70 volunteers observe and collect data in over 500 criminal domestic violence cases each year in two District Courts. Our findings and recommendations are spurring changes in policies and saving lives.
What you can do
- Tell your Representative and Senator in Annapolis that you want them to protect domestic violence victims and their children by ensuring that current Maryland gun laws are enforced.
- Write your State’s Attorney and urge them to fully prosecute domestic violence crime and ensure that domestic violence offenders convicted of felonies or assault know they must turn in their guns. Go to public forums and ask your county’s state’s attorney what percentage of domestic violence criminal charges are prosecuted, and what percentage result in convictions.
- Volunteer now!
- Funds are desperately needed to support part-time staff who can analyze and report on data collected by volunteers and manage advocacy campaigns.
- If one doesn’t already exist, start a court watch program in your county to monitor local domestic violence dockets – how are judges and prosecutors handling these cases in your area?
The Invisible Way Guns are Used to Keep Women in Abusive Relationships, by Melissa Jeltsen, The Huffington Post. 3/3/17.