Domestic abuse advocates say gun surrender laws may help prevent more shootings

FILE - Handguns (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Handguns (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As investigators piece together the deadly Sutherland Springs church shooting, some organizations are looking at ways to prevent other shootings like it.

Domestic violence advocates say it’s possible something like this could have been prevented.

“So often we hear that this came out of nowhere and there were no warning signs,” said Bronwyn Blake, a legal director for the Texas Advocacy Project. “But when you look at the interpersonal relationships of the shooter there were a lot of warning signs.”

Before Devin Kelley carried out the deadliest mass shooting in Texas on Sunday, the former airman had a history of violent behavior. He spent 12 months in a military prison for assaulting his then-wife and stepson and received a bad-conduct discharge.

In retrospect, the warning signs were there, but systems in place are another thing. Right now, some believe it’s a system that may be fatally flawed.

“You can look at different risk factors that an abusive person has,” Blake said. “Owning a weapon is one of the most lethal risk factors there is.”

But in some cities, there is a push to prevent weapons from being a factor in domestic abuse. Dallas County is trying to fix what it calls a loophole that allows domestic abusers to keep their guns by legally disarming them after a judge decides a protective order is needed.

“There is a groundbreaking judge out of Dallas, Judge Roberto Cañas who has developed a gun surrender protocol for his community that is a model for the state of Texas,” Blake said. “So when someone gets a protective order or court order and their ordered not to have a gun anymore, there’s actually steps that they need to follow to turn over those firearms.”

By law in Dallas County, a person who has a protective order out against them or who has been convicted of domestic violence has to surrender their weapons. According to the Dallas Morning News, in the past two years, Judge Cañas has seized 60 firearms but says there could be more if other judges did the same.

Still, that extra layer of protection is what Austin advocates say may make all the difference if the gun surrender law went statewide.

“Perpetrators know what they are doing, they are doing it intentionally and they are doing it to gain power and control,” said Roy Rios, family services coordinator with the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Access to guns gives abusers even more power, Rios says. And just because it happens behind closed doors, doesn’t mean the public isn’t at risk.

“This is all of our business and we can all be affected by this issue,” Rios says. “It’s really remarkable that we’re not talking more about this, this is an issue that is directly affecting people who just go to church, who go to their friends house to watch a football game.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, an independent, non-partisan charity looking to understand causes behind gun violence released a study earlier this year, focused on mass shootings between 2009 and 2016. There were more than 150 of them.

Just over half were related to domestic or family violence. In more than 40 percent of these cases, the shooter exhibited warning signs, like threats of violence, violating protective orders and even substance abuse. In roughly a third of the cases studied, the shooter was prohibited from possessing a gun.

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