May 18, 2015
To the Editor,
Very soon the CT General Assembly is likely to vote on important bills to further strengthen Connecticut’s gun safety laws. SB 650 and HB 6848 will protect women
in domestic violence situations by prohibiting possession of firearms by abusers who are subjects of temporary restraining orders.
Supporters of gun violence prevention are urging the Greenwich delegation (Senator Frantz, Representatives Floren, Camillo and Bocchino) to vote in support of these bills. According to the CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 20 states already have similar laws in place.
A judge issues a temporary restraining order when the victim faces “immediate and present physical danger.” Under these circumstances it’s just common sense to immediately prohibit the abuser from possessing a gun. The laws under consideration might have saved Lori Jackson, who was shot to death last year by her abusive husband while under the protection of a temporary restraining order.
The statistics on intimate partner homicide prove that the presence of firearms substantially increases the risk of death in domestic abuse situations. This is not a theoretical discussion. Studies document that domestic assaults that involve firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. Women in an abusive relationship are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a firearm.
Opponents of this legislation complain about it infringing on their 2nd Amendment right by violating due process (subjects of ex parte orders do not appear in court prior to issuance of the protective order). But gun rights need to be balanced with our inalienable right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. The state isn’t protecting these rights if a woman is at risk of being killed by her abusive partner because he’s allowed to keep his guns.
There is ample case law to dispel the argument that limiting the constitutional rights of subjects of ex parte civil protection orders does not violate constitutionally protected due process.
There are no Supreme Court cases that deal directly with ex parte civil protection orders, but cases covering other situations have established the constitutionality of ex parte orders. In Fuentes v. Shevin the Supreme Court held that a court may forego notice if the pending action is necessary to protect an important public interest, or if the situation requires urgent action. Protecting women who face immediate and present physical danger from armed abusers meets those criteria.
State courts have specifically upheld the constitutionality of evictions in cases of alleged domestic violence. Surely abrogating someone’s right to enter their home is as fundamental as the right to bear arms. The Pennsylvania court held in Boyle v. Boyle that subordinating the abuser’s due process rights to the victim’s right to immediate protection was consistent with Fuentes v. Shevin.
In Williams v. Marsh, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Missouri Adult Abuse Act against a due process challenge. The Court held that the ex parte order provisions satisfied due process requirements because they were a reasonable means to achieve the state’s legitimate goal of preventing domestic violence, and because the provisions afforded adequate procedural safeguards before and after any deprivation of rights.
Gun advocates are quick to use the Constitution to oppose gun safety laws, but they forget that no stronger defender of the 2nd Amendment than Supreme Court Justice Scalia said, “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Connecticut needs to do a better job of protecting victims of domestic abuse. The proposed legislation deserves “yes” votes from our delegation, consistent with their past support for common-sense gun safety laws.
Cos Cob, CT
The author leads the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence, and is a board member of CT Against Gun Violence, although the views expressed are his own.