Domestic violence coalition working to make it harder for suspects to have guns

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane County has the highest rate of domestic violence in the state, and when guns are used it’s much deadlier. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says cases involving firearms are 12 times more likely to end in death than incidents with other weapons or bodily force.

Now, advocates want to make it harder for domestic violence suspects to keep their guns while awaiting trial.

RELATED: Agencies emphasize local support available for domestic violence survivors

On Wednesday morning, Carl Smith faced a judge in the type of situation Spokane is seeing more often: domestic violence suspects, awaiting trial, ordered to surrender their guns.

What the law is right now in the county, if someone is arrested for domestic violence, police can see if that person has any guns registered to their name.

The suspect then has to call Crime Check and have officers come get their guns.

That’s what the court order says Carl Smith was supposed to do. But, instead of giving his gun to police, he gave them to his family members.

“Order to surrender is clear. If you need to hand down guns, you need to surrender them to law enforcement. Giving it to a family member is not sufficient,” argued a city prosecutor.

“He believed that he wasn’t going to back to the house, that the weapons weren’t at the house and he wasn’t going to access the weapons. That was what he believed he would do orally by the court,” Smith’s defender said.

Prosecutors wanted Smith back behind bars because he violated a court order, but the judge disagreed. She said Smith didn’t have any guns on himself now and he doesn’t have access to them either, so the judge let him go.

It was frustrating for police.

“It’s the court’s orders that we’re trying to enforce. It’d be nice to have the court’s support when we’re enforcing their orders,” said Sgt. Jordan Ferguson, with the Spokane Police Department.

But they aren’t alone in their frustration.

“The system does definitely, again, have some gaps that we need to work on,” said Annie Murphey, the executive director for the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition.

That is what the coalition is trying to do with a Firearms Technical Assistance Project, trying to keep guns away from domestic violence situations.

When it comes to civil situations – such as when a victim goes to the court asking for a restraining order –  victims are not in contact with police, so no one can check if the suspect has any guns.

“There are two things that happens when a gun is present and people are going through the court system. One is they have the responsibility to say ‘Yes, I do or do not have a weapon.’ That’s on them on how they choose to respond,” Murphey said. “The other way we usually find out is through the victim themselves. We put a lot of that ownness especially on the civil system on them to let us know that there’s a gun present.”

Murphey said taking away guns from the suspects  is not permanent either. Suspects in domestic violence cases can go before a judge to get them back in the future.

“Its not an indefinite process, always, but again, I think we need to get some clear information out there about what the process looks like,” she said.

For at least the next years, the coalition will work with local judges, court clerks and law enforcement to figure out a better way to handle this situation.

For anyone suffering through domestic violence, or wants to provide help to others who are, there are several resources available:

  • YWCA: (509) 326-1190
  • Lutheran Community Services: (509) 624-7273
  • Safe Passage: (208) 664-9303

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