Townsend promotes legislation to take guns from those suspected of domestic abusers

February 25, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Telling legislators that domestic abuse is more than "a women's issue," Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has urged lawmakers to approve legislation making it easier to take guns away from people who are the targets of protective court orders.

In what is becoming an annual event, the lieutenant governor appeared before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday to promote the top legislative objectives of the Family Violence Council, which she co-chairs.

This year, the council is urging the General Assembly to pass two bills intended to get guns out of the hands of suspected abusers.

One would allow a judge to require the surrender of a gun as part of an ex parte order, a temporary measure issued against an alleged abuser before a hearing at which both the complainant and the alleged abuser are present. The other would require judges at subsequent hearings to ask about whether the alleged abuser possesses a gun and create a penalty for failure to turn over a weapon.

Townsend said the bills fill critical gaps in the state's protections for victims of abuse.

"They make that unmistakable statement that guns do not belong in an abusive relationship," she said. "When a neutral judge makes a judgment that someone is in danger, we must come down on the side of safety."

Townsend introduced Baltimore police Officer Kate Wood, whose daughter, Francseea Y. Batts, was shot to death in 1997 by an estranged boyfriend, Vincent Brown, after he was served with a protective order.

"If law enforcement officers had custody of Vincent's gun, then maybe my child would not have died," Wood said.

A version of the legislation failed last year because of concerns about constitutionality. Advocates said this year's bill has been redrafted to meet those concerns.

Dorothy J. Lenning, legal clinic director at the House of Ruth in Baltimore, told lawmakers that 73 Marylanders were killed in domestic abuse incidents last year -- 38 of them with guns.

She said this year's version of the ex parte bill would require the judge to make a determination that the alleged abuser had a gun and either had used it or was likely to use it against the victim.

The bill has run into less opposition this year, but some gun rights advocates continue to object to any gun seizure before both sides have had their day in court.

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