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How Louisiana Is Taking Guns Out of Abusers' Hands

Abused women are five times more likely to be killed if the perpetrator owns a firearm.

A Louisiana law went into effect last month requiring that those who are convicted of domestic abuse battery or have an active protective order against them to turn over their firearms. Louisiana, which ranks second in the nation in the rate of women killed by men, now requires gun dealers to notify local authorities if a person prohibited from possessing firearms attempts to buy them. Dealers who knowingly provide guns to convicted abusers can be criminally penalized.

That law came into the spotlight again last week, when two young boys in Louisiana saved their mom after their father threatened to shoot her with his pistol, the Associated Press reports. The father, who didn't have a prior criminal history of domestic violence, was wearing body armor and wielding a semi-automatic rifle when taken in police custody. Sheriff Tony Mancuso of Calcasieu Parish said that, if the father is convicted, this new law would prevent him from legally owning guns.

It's been a long road for the law, which was originally sponsored in 2014, by then-state Representative Helena Moreno, a Democrat. That bill was part of a larger legislative package to provide better protections for domestic violence victims.

Abused women are five times more likely to be killed if the perpetrator owns a firearm, and domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to end in death than assaults with other weapons or physical harm, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Despite these devastating statistics, there was pushback from state legislators to get the bill passed four years ago.

"[Some legislators] felt it was too severe of a consequence to lose firearm rights for 10 years," says Moreno, who is now councilmember-at-large in New Orleans. "There were concerns that some of these individuals convicted of domestic abuse battery could not take their children hunting for 10 years."

Even after its passage, Moreno says there was a lack of enforcement, and offenders were keeping their firearms. (The bill that was passed in 2014 didn't include enforcement procedures for firearms divestiture, meaning offenders were able to keep their guns. But now, with the 2018 bill, that setback is solved.)

Helena Moreno.

Helena Moreno.

"We worked for several years to pass firearm transfer legislation, but received constant pushback from some judges and sheriffs claiming it would just be too hard," Moreno says. "Finally, in 2018, firearm transfer legislation was passed that provides procedures to divest offenders."

While Moreno's legislation tackles the issue on a state-level, individual parishes have also been drafting their own laws aimed at taking guns out of convicted abusers' hands. For example, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, has implemented proper enforcement since 2014, according to State Senator Jean-Paul Morrell. "There were some parishes, like Lafourche Parish being one, that though there was no spelled-out process, they just started doing it," Morrell told WDSU News. "Lafourche Parish from that period of 2014 to now, haven't had one domestic violence murder."

Now, there are 27 states with laws that require weapons to be taken from abusers but only after they have become the subject of a protective order. One study found that states that have adopted these laws have seen a 25 percent reduction in the risk of gun-related intimate partner homicides. Moreover, there is a groundswell of national support for policies that keep guns away from convicted abusers. A 2018 national poll found that 81 percent of people, including gun owners, want firearms taken away from domestic violence perpetrators.

Moreno continues fighting for domestic violence survivors. She believes the criminal justice system must treat domestic violence like the serious crime that it is rather than giving offenders "a slap on the wrist."

"Local communities must also push to increase services to help victims and focus on family violence prevention," Moreno says. "So often violence in the home spills out into violence in our communities."