AMONTGOMERY COUNTY nonprofit that monitors court proceedings issued a report in 2015 that found something “stark and disturbing” in criminal domestic violence cases: Guns were virtually never discussed. Convicted abusers were not told that they, by law, were disqualified from possessing or purchasing firearms. They weren’t asked if they had any weapons. And — most alarming, given that the chances of a domestic violence victim being killed rise fivefold when an abuser has access to a gun — they weren’t told to surrender any guns.
That finding resulted in legislation three years ago in Maryland that would plug the gap in state law by setting up a mechanism to facilitate the surrender of firearms by convicted domestic abusers. Unfortunately, the bill died. It was introduced the following year and, inexplicably, died again. The measure is back again this year. Hopefully, the attention focused on gun control that resulted from the recent tragic events in Florida will help win passage of this needed fix.
Committees in the state Senate and House are holding hearings this week and next on legislation that would require judges to notify those disqualified from gun ownership as a result of a domestic violence conviction that they are prohibited from having or buying a gun, provide 48 hours for transfer to police or a licensed gun dealer, and show proof of surrender within five days. Existing law already bars convicted domestic abusers from possessing guns, and they would fail a background check if they tried to purchase a gun, so it makes no sense — and is downright dangerous — that there is nothing in the law that makes sure domestic violence abusers surrender weapons they already own. By contrast, there is a process for law enforcement authorities to retrieve guns from domestic violence offenders during all final civil protective-order proceedings.
Keeping guns out of the hands of convicted abusers is a concern not just for the survivors of abuse but also for the public at large. Domestic violence has figured into the backgrounds of many mass shooters, and responding to domestic violence calls is one of the most dangerous situations police face, as was tragically underscored last week when off-duty Prince George’s County police officer Mujahid Ramzziddin was killed trying to help a woman who feared her estranged husband.
Opponents of gun control are quick to argue that what’s needed to combat gun violence is enforcement of existing law. That is precisely what this measure would facilitate. We urge favorable votes from the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, approval by the General Assembly and a signature from Gov. Larry Hogan (R).