March For Change Rebuts John Frey on HB 5054

Following is the Rebuttal to John Frey’s Reasoning and Justification for his NO Vote on HB 5054, which was recently issued by March For Change, a grassroots gun safety advocacy group.

We would like to set the record straight for the voting public concerning the matter of protecting victims of domestic violence from firearms through Connecticut’s risk warrant statute or an Ex parte civil restraining order.

The two statutes are entirely different and are not interchangeable. Connecticut’s risk warrant statute was adopted in 1999. A domestic violence victim must lodge a complaint with the police about her abuser. Two police, or a District Attorney, must interview the victim and the abuser in their home. Then, it is up to the police to determine if in fact they believe that the person poses a risk to herself, himself, or others. The two police must be in agreement with each other. Only then may they apply for a risk warrant to remove the weapons from the individual who poses a threat. There are other practical considerations that prohibit victims from reporting their abusers to police. According to the CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CTCADV), in a survey of 600 women, the majority of respondents stated that turning to the police would make things worse and would possibly have deadly results. Some woman reported that the police did not believe them because they saw no physical evidence of abuse. Others sided with the abuser, telling them to stay away from the victim. The request for applying for a risk warrant is not the typical domestic violence call. Weapons are not removed immediately as Rep. Frey would have voters believe.

An ex parte or temporary civil restraining order is considered to be a substantially sounder policy by the battered Women’s Justice Project of the CTCADV and CT Against Gun Violence because the responsibility and burden shifts from the victim to the state and courts. The judge has the discretion and authority to order the surrender of the weapons. It does not add an extra hurdle for victims. At least twenty states agree and have passed legislation authorizing or requiring the surrender of firearms at the ex parte stage. This year, the Connecticut legislature passed HB 5054 in this spirit. It requires the abuser to surrender his weapons within 24 hours of being served with a temporary restraining order, an improvement over the former ruling that permitted the abuser to retain his weapons for 14 days until the court hearing. The bill passed in a bipartisan manner.  Virtually all Fairfield County Republicans voted in favor of the bill.  Rep. Frey was with the minority who didn’t.

Earlier this year, Rep. Frey justified his NO vote against HB 5054 by originally saying he feared that it interfered with due process, although the US 5th District Circuit Court had upheld that it does not violate due process. He reasoned that violent abusers should be allowed to retain their weapons for two weeks, when it is a widely acknowledged fact that abused women are at 5 times the risk of being murdered by their abuser within the first 24 hours of being served with a TRO. At the LWV Candidate’s Forum, he said the law provides a “false sense of security”, and that “the appropriate action” for the threatened party is to call the police, who will come and immediately remove the weapons. As readers will conclude from the above, it’s not quite that simple, nor is it correct.

We doubt that Lori Gellatly’s family would agree with his assessment either. Lori lived in Oxford, CT. She was an abused woman who was waiting out the 14 day period for the court hearing when her estranged husband murdered her, and attempted to murder her mother, in her home in May 2014.

Victims should have the option to apply to the court, and without further risk to themselves or their family, to request a TRO and have the expectation that the weapons in question will be surrendered within 24 hours.

Ridgefield voters have the right to expect that their legislative representatives will obtain the correct information required to make an informed vote. They have the right to expect their representatives to make sound decisions that will keep them, their neighbors and their community safe from gun violence.