Perpetrators of domestic violence harassment could lose firearm rights

Proposed SB 6298 adds harassment crimes in a domestic violence setting to existing law.

A proposed bill would add harassment to a list of domestic violence crimes for which someone can have their firearm rights revoked.

SB 6298, sponsored by Senator Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, adds harassment crimes in a domestic violence setting to existing law. The bill was heard on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Under both existing law and the Dhingra’s bill, a person must be convicted of a domestic violence felony or gross misdemeanor to have their firearm rights revoked.

Harassment, which is a gross misdemeanor, not a felony, would be included under the bill. Harassment includes physical threats or threats that instill reasonable fear and are likely to be carried out.

“We can’t ignore that these threats are promises to a victim,” Chris Anderson, director of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said.

Protective order cases, he said, often show patterns of domestic abuse, threats, and harassment that can be more serious than individual incidents reported in 911 calls.

“The most statistically significant thing we can do is remove firearms from the situation,” he said.

Anderson also said that because felony level domestic violence cases are sometimes hard to prove, the court might settle for a plea-bargained misdemeanor. Including misdemeanors, the bill would more accurately represent a perpetrator’s past history of violence.

Washington state already has a law prohibiting those convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun. That includes felonies like assault, stalking, death threats, or violating a protection order. When someone is convicted of a crime, he or she must surrender any firearms to the court. In 2014, the legislature enacted a law that someone must surrender their firearms to the court when there is a protection order issued against them. He or she can, however, petition the court to restore those rights.

Under Sheena’s Law, passed in 2015, law enforcement must notify family members when a previously surrendered firearm is returned to that person. A 2016 law allows family members to petition courts to remove firearms from those who pose a risk to themselves or others.

Implementation of these laws is challenging because, according to the Seattle City Attorney Annual Report, it requires a multi-systematic force made up of county police departments, court and prosecutor’s offices, and state coalitions and associations advocating for gun safety and against domestic violence.

Nearly one in three women experience some sort of domestic abuse, according to a the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The same study said homicide is five times more likely when a gun is present during a domestic violence incident.

Tamaso Johnson, public policy director for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the bill addresses key gaps in the criminal justice system because the courts currently don’t look too much at the past history of a perpetrator in domestic violence cases.

He said the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence found, in their Domestic Violence Fatality Review, patterns of harassment were closely coordinated with homicide rates.

A study from Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund shows a correlation with mass shootings. The study found that in 54 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. the perpetrator also shot a family member or partner.

“If this legislature is committed to taking steps to end violence in communities and gun violence in general, this bill is a critical step in that direction,” Johnson said.

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