Gun range agrees to hold firearms of abusers in Dallas County

by Emily Roberts | Jun 30, 2014

Gun range agrees to hold firearms of abusers in Dallas County

June 26, 2014
by Sarah Mervosh and Jennifer Emily
The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County has cleared the biggest hurdle to taking guns away from domestic abusers deemed too dangerous to have them.

A private gun range near Love Field has agreed to store the hundreds of guns authorities expect to confiscate each year if they begin enforcing laws that forbid certain domestic abusers from having firearms.

Dallas County would be the first known jurisdiction in the country to rely solely on private gun storage. The outside-the-box solution is the most significant development yet in the county’s efforts to create a gun confiscation program, possibly paving the way for a launch within a few months.

“Imagine how much better victims would sleep at night knowing all the guns had been removed,” said Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter. “I think it will save lives. I really do.”

The option to use a private storage facility — rather than crowded police evidence rooms — comes less than a month after The Dallas Morning News reported that the county regularly fails to enforce laws that forbid convicted abusers and subjects of protective orders from having guns. Most domestic homicides are committed with guns.

County criminal court Judge Roberto Cañas, who stepped up this month to be the county’s point person on the issue, is working on ironing out the details with the gun range’s owner, who has hosted law enforcement training sessions and regularly conducts background checks on potential gun owners.

“I was very elated and optimistic,” Cañas said.

Gun and domestic violence experts say Danvers, Mass., a town of about 25,000, runs the only program similar to what Dallas County proposes. There, police send guns to a private facility, but only after they run out of space in their property room. In Austin and San Antonio, law enforcement agencies store guns that are taken from domestic batterers.

Dallas police and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department have said they don’t have the capacity to store extra guns but will continue to be responsible for guns seized as evidence in crimes.

“I couldn’t find another jurisdiction across the country that said, ‘We looked at the issue and we thought it was better not to go with the private entity,’ or ‘We felt as a safety issue you couldn’t go with a private entity,’” Cañas said.

He said he will seek approval from the county commissioners to apply for a federal grant distributed by the governor’s office to help fund the effort. He said the $36,000 grant could pay for a gun safe or the salary of a county firearm liaison, for example.

Judges also still have to agree on a procedure for obtaining the guns that will work for criminal, civil and family courts.

Penalty for lying

Once a policy and funding are in place, Cañas said, judges will begin asking the accused whether they own guns and requiring them to sign an affidavit. Lying could result in a new charge, probation violation or bond revocation.

For those who say yes, the judge would order them to turn over their guns to the gun range, probably at an appointed time, and return to court with a receipt within 48 hours.

“You would be responsible for coming back in front of me to prove that you’ve delivered the gun,” Cañas said.

The receipt model has worked elsewhere, including in Austin and San Antonio.

While the gun range doesn’t plan to charge the county for the partnership, Cañas said there would be a one-time fee to gun owners — probably no more than $50 — to get their guns back after the protective order expired. Some jurisdictions charge the gun owner a monthly fee for storage.

Business opportunity

If guns are never returned to their owners, Cañas said, the gun range would like to keep them to resell or to sell for scrap.

“That’s where they see a business opportunity,” Cañas said.

The owner of the gun range declined to comment until he works out the final details of the agreement with Cañas.

Using a private facility appears to circumvent several police concerns, including their lack of space for weapons and questions about whether they have the authority to confiscate them. But Cañas said he wants to work with police to create a plan for dealing with an abuser who fails to turn a gun over as ordered.

“To me, that would be like a red flag, alarm bells going off,” he said.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas is considering whether legislative changes are needed to facilitate gun confiscation.

Aaron Setliff, policy director for the Texas Council of Family Violence, said the next step should be to determine whether there are any security risks to using a private facility and whether a police officer should be present during the handoff.

But Setliff, a former prosecutor, said officials here are thinking creatively — which is key to overcoming roadblocks.

“It’s an innovative approach that might work for Dallas,” he said.