Advocates for survivors of domestic violence and supporters of stricter gun control are applauding passage of a new measure included in the new budget for New York State.
It requires individuals convicted of domestic violence-related crimes to surrender all of their firearms.
This closes a loophole in the existing law that mandates the surrender of only handguns by those convicted of a felony. The new legislation bans the possession of all firearms, including rifles, for those convicted in domestic violence cases, even when the charges are misdemeanors.
"Even in the land of misdemeanor, survivors of dating and domestic violence still are in great danger because when they go to escape it increases in frequency and escalates in violence," said
Pam Graham, prevention training manager at Willow Domestic Violence Center. When guns are present, Graham said, they up the ante on the danger level in domestic violence situations.
Tim Andrews, president of SCOPE, a Second Amendment advocacy group, says his organization supports taking guns away from those convicted of domestic violence, as long as there is due process.
"If we're gonna take guns away from anyone, it should be adjudicated first in the courts. It shouldn't just be a situation where police show up at the door unannounced, unless there is evidence that a crime is about to be committed or something."
Under the new legislation, gun owners are entitled to a hearing to challenge the surrender of their weapons, but the firearms can be confiscated before a hearing takes place.
Police already use their discretion to try to take guns from people accused in domestic violence cases, but Gary Pudup, a member of the group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and a retired Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy, says the new measure formalizes and mandates that process.
"It's always voluntary, so the officer can ask, the office can cajole and try to reason with the individual, but the individual could always say no. In this case now, the police and the courts have the power to protection victims of domestic violence."
The threat of losing the right to own a gun could be deterrent to perpetrators of domestic violence, according to Graham. In some cases, she said, abusers are persuaded to stop their behavior if they are presented with a restraining order. "For other people who are abusive, they feel that they are above any type of law, but losing their gun might be the thing that makes them choose to not do it."
Pudup says even more can be done to protect individuals from domestic violence. He advocates for emergency restraining protection orders which would give authorities the right to remove firearms from people who are not convicted of a crime but who present a demonstrated threat to themselves or others.
The current gun control measure had bipartisan support in both houses of the State Legislature, but local Republicans Rich Funke and Pamela Helming were among the 19 Senators who voted no. Funke said, through a spokesperson, that he opposed the legislation because it allows for gun confiscations merely based on the charge or the issuance of an order, even if it's based on hearsay evidence.
The bill is now awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature.