H.422, “An act relating to confiscation of dangerous or deadly weapons from a person arrested or cited for domestic assault,” passed the House as Draft No. 6.1 March 22, by a 78-60 vote.
The bill authorizes the police to temporarily seize firearms “from persons arrested or cited for domestic violence.” In it the state claims a “special need to remove firearms from a home where law enforcement has probable cause to believe domestic violence has occurred.”
The law already allows police to do this in domestic violence cases if the firearm is “contraband or evidence of the offense.” The original bill covered all categories of “dangerous or deadly weapons” and spelled out three conditions under which police are required to confiscate a weapon: the person being arrested or cited is displaying it; it’s in plain view of the officer; or it turns up during a “consensual search.”
Draft 6.1 removes those conditions and narrows the category of “dangerous or deadly weapons” to firearms. It also appears to leave the decision to confiscate up to the officer. Draft 6.1 also says “the officer may remove any firearm obtained pursuant to a search warrant or a judicially recognized exception to the warrant requirement if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer or any other person,” which appears to give the police latitude to confiscate without a warrant actually in hand.
Draft No. 6.1 is not a particularly good bill—it leaves out references to existing statutes, the protocols for police officers are murky, and it sets itself up for attack by Second Amendment advocates and pro-gun groups, who fault the bill for singling out firearms for confiscation. While the intent is to take firearms temporarily out of the equation and create a 5-day “cooling off period” to protect victims of domestic violence from retaliation, it is more of a Band-Aid that may actually put victims at greater risk, in the following ways.
Some argue that victims need a firearm available to protect themselves. Contrary to the claim that a gun has a “chilling effect,” that could backfire. The likelihood of an amateur gunfighter putting the assailant out of commission is low, while the likelihood of the assailant using the same gun against the victim is high. The victim could no longer claim being shot “in cold blood” but instead could be charged with threatening the life of the assailant. Domestic violence counselors say the best way is simply to leave, as fast as possible.
In addition, will this law be a deterrent to calling the police? Victims appeal to the police to get help in defusing the situation, but the likelihood of having the gun seized could have the opposite effect.
The effectiveness of the law depends entirely on whether the police involved can move fast enough, and on the discretion of the officer.
The constitutionality of the law will be hashed out in the courts. While supporters and opponents spar over the letter of the law, there is still a very simple solution. This bill specifically and solely targets domestic abusers. The best way for abusers to protect their right to keep a firearm, under this law, is to change their own behaviors that harm themselves and their families – to learn positive, constructive ways to deal with the complexities of relationships.
Given the incidence of domestic abuse in Vermont, the state needs to resolve the social and economic stressors that lead to domestic abuse and to get behind more and better counseling and treatment programs – before the abuser goes to prison.
It’s interesting to note that H.422 is billed in headlines as the “gun control” or “gun confiscation” law. The law is not fundamentally “about” who gets to keep their gun. It should be about curbing if not eliminating domestic violence and protecting its victims.
Back to the drawing board.