OLYMPIA – A person convicted of domestic violence harassment would be ordered to give up his or her guns, under a bill considered by a Senate committee Tuesday.
The bill would protect domestic violence victims by closing a loophole in prohibitions for most other domestic violence abusers, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, its sponsor, said.
Allowing abusers to keep or buy firearms puts victims at risk, said Okesia Phillips, a domestic violence survivor. After her ex-husband threatened her, she said she faced constant harassment from him and his family.
“His sisters would show up at my job. He would call my job,” she said. “Knowing he had several guns, and that he was skilled in using them, always put me on guard.”
Christopher Anderson, director of Seattle City Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit, said the risk of homicide is 20 times more likely when there is a history of domestic violence, including harassment.
“We cannot gamble with the lives of these victims,” he said.
Serious crimes also are routinely pleaded down to lesser convictions because of a lack of witnesses, said Tamaso Johnson with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This can lead to greater danger for victims when some domestic violence charges like harassment allow for continued gun ownership, he said.
The Law and Justice Committee also heard testimony on legislation to suspend firearm rights after someone is hospitalized under the Involuntary Treatment Act. That allows people deemed dangerous to themselves or others to be detained in a mental health facility for 72 hours.
Return of the firearms could be requested after six months, instead of immediately after release.
Mike De Felice, representing the Washington Defender Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the bill doesn’t account for due process.
“This bill takes away a constitutional right of a person without coming to court,” he said. “There is no individualized determination of risk by the court.”
But Leanne Kennedy, a therapist from Tacoma, said the payoff for public and patient safety is worth it.
Her patients who enter the 72-hour detention are the ones she is most worried about, she said, and should not have access to a gun.
“You can give a gun back, but you can’t undo a bullet to the head,” she said.
Another bill could result in people who have charges dismissed because they aren’t competent to stand trial, losing their guns. It would require courts to determine if the person is likely to commit a violent crime in the future based on a history of violence.
David Martin, of the King County prosecutor’s office, said courts should look at the information when it’s immediately available to prevent future violence.
“Courts are primed to make that decision when they have all of that information in front of them,” he said. “It’s the perfect time to be making that decision.”
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