Texas - Dallas County officials vow to help take away guns from abusers

by Emily Roberts | Jun 09, 2014

Texas, Dallas County officials vow to help take away abusers' guns

June 7, 2014

The Dallas Morning News

Efforts to keep guns away from domestic abusers intensified last week as state and county officials vowed to help enforce laws that forbid certain batterers from having firearms.

Their commitments mark the most vocal collaboration yet to tackle the challenges of enforcing the gun ban, as Dallas County continues to make preventing domestic homicides a priority.

These are the first steps in creating a countywide program to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

Need-to-know background: State and federal laws prohibit convicted abusers and subjects of protective orders from having guns.

But The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Dallas County regularly fails to enforce those laws, leaving guns in the hands of abusers such as the man who police say shot a police officer and killed his pregnant girlfriend last year while he had a protective order against him.

Judges and police blamed their inaction on a law that doesn’t say who has the authority to confiscate the weapons. The News reported that other Texas counties, including Travis and Bexar, had found ways to enforce the ban anyway.

Action at the courthouse: Criminal court Judge Roberto Cañas, who mainly handles family violence misdemeanors, stepped up last week to oversee Dallas County’s efforts to keep guns away from domestic abusers. He will be the point person for police, prosecutors and other judges and will fill a vacant leadership role experts say is key in creating a successful program.

“I’m going to be that person,” said Cañas, who said The News’ article prompted him to act. “I’m putting it on myself to be that.”

State District Judge Rick Magnis, who runs a program for domestic violence offenders on probation, pledged to be Cañas’ “right hand.”

Also last week, judges in protective-order court met to talk about how they could make sure accused batterers in their courts don’t illegally keep their guns. It was the first time those judges got together to talk about gun ban enforcement, said Judge Linda Thomas, one of four senior judges who rotate on the court’s bench.

Legislative options: Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is considering whether state law should be changed to help officials confiscate firearms. He plans to bring the issue up in the Legislature next year, said his chief of staff, Liz Zornes.

“This is something we think everyone should get behind, regardless of party or political viewpoints,” Zornes said. “No one is in favor of domestic violence.”

Anchia’s staff also reached out to the Dallas County district attorney’s office and The Family Place shelter last week.

What’s next: Anchia wants to meet with judges, advocates and other key players later this month. Magnis said he will soon begin requiring offenders in his court to testify or sign an affidavit about whether they have a firearm. If they lie, they may face additional charges or have their probations revoked. Cañas said other courts could follow suit.

Read the full article at Dallasnews.com.