Dallas County moves to seize guns from domestic violence offenders

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by TANYA EISERER

WFAA

Posted on July 2, 2014 at 9:41 AM

DALLAS — A groundbreaking effort to take guns out of the hands of domestic violent offenders is underway in Dallas County.

County officials are preparing to launch a new program to force those on probation for domestic violence offenses who are subject to protective orders to surrender their firearms.

A private gun range near Love Field has signed on to store the estimated 700 to 1,000 weapons that officials expect to confiscate every year.

“Gun surrenders has been something that — out of all the good things that Dallas County does — we do this very poorly,” said Criminal Court Judge Roberto Cañas, who is spearheading the groundbreaking effort. “We’ve been operating on the honor system, and we don’t want to do that anymore.”

Federal and state law forbids those convicted of domestic violence or with emergency protective orders from possessing firearms, but Dallas County didn’t have any specific mechanism for taking guns from them.

“It’s the law, and we need to have a workable procedure to enforce the law,” said Cañas, who oversees one of the county’s two misdemeanor domestic violence courts. “Taking guns out of these situations will definitely lower the risk and save lives.”

Under the current plan, those offenders will be asked by a judge if they have firearms. If they do, they'll be ordered to surrender them and to show proof they did so.

Judges will be talking to victims and checking for concealed handgun licenses or other records that show the offender may have a weapon.

“The offender will have to come back with the receipt showing that they turned it in, and I think it would also be prudent to have the storage facility to also send us some paperwork, saying that 'Mr. Smith did show up with his gun,'” Cañas said.

The biggest obstacle officials had to overcome was where to store the guns. The county didn't have room. The police department didn’t, either. So DFW Gun Range near Love Field stepped in, agreeing to take on the job.

The gun range isn’t planning to charge the county for storage, but if a protective order expires on a person and they become eligible to possess a weapon again, then they would be charged a small fee to get the weapon back, Cañas said. That fee would largely cover the gun range’s cost of running a federally-mandated criminal background check on the person.

Domestic violence advocates lauded the county’s new approach.

They believe the plan will prevent deadly outcomes, like the fatal January 2013 shooting of Karen Cox Smith, who was gunned down by her husband inside a UT Southwestern Medical Center parking lot last year.

“It is going to help save someone’s life,” said Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place. “Studies show that it's five times more likely that a woman will die when there's a gun in the home and there's a domestic violence offense.”

Cañas and the other judges were meeting Tuesday to try to finalize the details of how the program will work. He expects to have the new procedures in place as soon as September.

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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