In the state of Washington individuals with an order of protection against them can retain possession of their firearms. Mandatory surrender laws would require individuals with orders of protection against them to hand over their guns. Only a handful of states have these laws thanks to impressive lobbying efforts by the National Rifle Association. The NRA would rather see gun owners keep their weapons than protect the lives of domestic violence victims.
The New York Times used available databases to collect information on crimes involving guns after an order of protection was filed. The NYT identified scores of cases in Washington State where guns were used by people who recently had civil protection orders filed against them.
Domestic violence related deaths account for half of the women killed in America, and of those women more than half are killed with a gun. The NYT article tells the stories of several women who had orders of protection against their spouses. In each instance the state involved did not have a mandatory surrender law which enabled the men to retain possession of their firearms.
One such story chronicled by the NYT was of Barbara Diane Dye and her husband Raymond Dye. Ms. Dye filed an emergency order of protection the same day she filed for divorce. She informed the judge her husband had repeatedly threatened to kill her and that he possessed firearms. Ms. Dye and her family begged police to take away Mr. Dye’s guns. The police ignored her request. Two weeks later, Ms. Dye was shot in the parking lot of a local bank by her husband who then turned the gun on himself.
Representative Ruth Kagi is a Washington State Democrat who has been trying to enact firearm surrender laws for all orders of protection. The NRA fiercely opposed the legislation and the bill never made it out of committee. In 2010, the state of Washington lowered their expectations by backing a bill that would force gun owners to surrender their weapons only after a full protective order is issued. The NRA lobbied and won again.
Laws alone will not prevent tragedies like the one of Diane Dye from happening. Wisconsin has some of the more strict surrender laws in the country but a lack of enforcement keeps them from having their intended effect. Increased enforcement of existing mandatory surrender laws in San Mateo County, California has saved lives. Sgt. Linda Gibbons informed the NYT that a gun-related homicide had not occurred in the last three years. “Last year alone, the program took in 324 firearms through seizure or surrender from 81 people, out of more than 800 protective orders it reviewed.” Lives are saved when mandatory firearm surrender laws are in place and enforced.
Guns right activists will argue that being forced to surrender their weapons is a clear violation of their civil liberties. The most dangerous time for domestic violence victims is immediately following a restraining order. The right to bear arms is not absolute and the state has a compelling interest to protect the lives of its citizens against violent offenders.