OLYMPIA – When her ex-husband pointed a gun at her and threatened to blow her head off while she knelt in her Spokane living room, there was a point when Stephanie Holten thought, “I’m going to die.”
Still, Holten remained calm enough to slip out her cellphone and dial 911 when Corey Holten turned his head away for a few seconds, then slip the phone under a blanket hoping the line was open. When he ordered her upstairs and demanded she surrender custody of their son, she stayed clear-headed enough to bargain with him to give her the ammunition and put the gun down in return.
As the last round was ejected from the chamber, she heard “Spokane Police. Show us your hands” as officers arrived, guns drawn, and arrested him.
As calm as she was on that January night in 2012, Stephanie Holten had a brief panic attack Friday after watching Gov. Jay Inslee sign a bill intended to make it less likely that someone under a no-contact order and prone to domestic violence, as Corey Holten was that night, will show up at another former spouse or partner’s house with a gun.
The shakes, she explained later after catching her breath, were partly adrenaline from seeing a goal accomplished and partly post-traumatic stress that lingers.
“I’m overjoyed,” she said. “I truly believe that it will save lives.”
House Bill 1840 allows a judge to require someone with a history of domestic violence to surrender their weapons if they are under a no-contact or permanent restraining order. It’s not automatic, and before the guns are surrendered the owner must be given a chance for a hearing to contest the order.
Passed unanimously in both houses, Inslee called the bill a sign that “we can do common-sense things here around gun violence.” He shook Holten’s hand and thanked her for telling her story as the bill wound its way through committee hearings.
This is an abbreviated version of that story:
The Holtens divorced in 2009 after 12 years of marriage and two children, with Stephanie named the primary custodial parent. After the divorce, she said Corey’s behavior became increasingly disturbing. He made threatening phone calls, drove by the house and on Christmas Day 2011 threatened to “blow my head off over the fact I was dating again.”
“I was in shock. I’d known him for 20 years. It was kind of surreal.”
She told an acquaintance who was a police officer, who advised her to file a police report. She did, and he started showing up at her house when she wasn’t there. She went to court for a protective order and told the judge her ex-husband had guns and she was scared. The judge didn’t say anything, she recalled.
The protective order was served around noon on Jan. 21. That night, she said, Corey Holten pulled his car in behind hers after she arrived home with the children, got out and pointed a gun at her. He threatened to blow her head off and ordered her into the house. He made her kneel in the living room and continued the threats. When she slipped out her cellphone, she wasn’t even sure she dialed 911 and could only pray the line was open and an operator on the other end could figure out what was going on.
They did, and the police who arrived arrested Corey Holten. Convicted of first-degree assault and other charges, he was sentenced to 75 months in prison followed by three years of community custody. He also has a lifetime no-contact order involving Stephanie – no visits, no calls, no letters, no emails.
Grace Huang, a coordinator for the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said various versions of HB 1840 have been proposed starting in 2003, but without success. Although some other gun-control measures failed in the Legislature, testimony of victims like Stephanie Holten helped turn the tide this year, along with some high-profile national cases of gun violence.
“I think there is a universal recognition that someone who has been found to have a history of abuse should not have a firearm,” Huang said.
One other factor that may have given the bill unanimous approval in both houses was an amendment added in the House that the alleged abuser is entitled to notice and a hearing before being ordered to surrender his or her weapons.
Stephanie Holten said she “absolutely” supports that change. “Both parties should have a chance to go in front of a neutral judge and make their case,” she said. “Someone who is accused unfairly will be able to prove their innocence.”
Signing the bill into law was a victory not just for her but for everyone who worked on the bill. Because she lived through an assault, it provides her with a peace of mind others might not understand.
“I think I’ll be able to sleep at night,” she said.