USA: Pilot program aims to enforce mandatory firearms surrender laws

29 April 2010

Winnebago County is one of four counties participating in a pilot program designed to more effectively ensure that people comply with court orders to surrender firearms.

While all domestic violence injunctions require the subject of the injunction to surrender any firearms they have, there has been no procedure in place to verify if they are handed over to the sheriff's department or another person for storage while the injunction is in effect.

An injunction is a court order that limits the contact between individuals in domestic violence cases.

A state grant will allow Winnebago County – and three other counties – to develop and implement a program to check on compliance with the federal and state laws that call for firearms to be surrendered and follow through with enforcement if the guns have not been surrendered.

"There's nothing being changed in the law," Winnebago County Court Commissioner David Keck said. "We're just putting a procedure in place to make sure it's being followed."

The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors approved accepting a $37,399 grant for the program from the state Office of Justice Assistance on Tuesday.

Keck said the procedure that will be implemented in Winnebago County is ready to go and should be up and running in the next few weeks. Outagamie, Sauk and Waushara counties also received the grants.

Under the new program, Keck said, the respondent of a temporary restraining order –the first step that must be taken to get an injunction issued – will be advised they have to turn over their firearms if an injunction is granted. When they return to court for the injunction hearing, Keck said, the respondent will have to show proof they have either turned in the firearms to the sheriff's department or to another person. If the firearms were turned over to another person, that person must appear in court to testify they understand what is expected of them.

The program will allow court and law enforcement officials to determine whether the surrender order has been complied with, while also giving authorities a tool to use to take possession of the firearms if they have not been turned over.

It's a step domestic abuse victims will appreciate. Studies have shown that domestic violence situations where a weapon is involved are more likely to become deadly, said Julie Fevola, executive director of Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services.

"This is great for domestic abuse victims knowing that the firearms were surrendered," Fevola said. "Hopefully we can prevent some homicides if this program is in place."

Originally published on 29 April 2010 in The Northwestern

The Northwestern