THE JOURNAL RECORD: Domestic violence advocates call for law changes
By: Mindy Ragan Wood
Published: October 30, 2023
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers can save countless lives if they’d only strengthen the state’s firearm laws by barring domestic abusers from owning guns, violence prevention advocates said.
The idea, though, has proven a tough sell in the GOP-controlled Legislature, which in recent years has loosened gun restrictions.
Advocates say more laws controlling gun access are needed to save lives in a state that has seen over 70% of abusers kill their victims with a firearm. According to the most recent report from the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, 118 people were killed as the result of domestic violence in 2021.
“No one that I know has a problem with responsible gun ownership, but if there’s domestic violence in the home, then we’re looking at the chance of homicide greatly increasing,” said Tara Tyler, of Survivor Resource Network in Ponca City.
She said other states, like Kansas and Texas, have restricted gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who are subject to a protective order related to domestic violence.
She called on lawmakers to adopt similar prohibitions but said getting such changes through the Legislature will be an uphill battle because of public fears surrounding proposals that limit gun access. She said there’s an unfounded fear that everyone’s gun rights will be taken away.
“You have to balance public safety with personal rights, and I feel like responsible gun owners are about that,” Tyler said.
Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, opposes the idea. He said any ban on guns, unless a person is jailed or on probation, is a violation of their constitutional rights.
“If someone is convicted of whatever the violence is, they go spend time in prison and they get out, it’s still possible that there’s people who want to kill them,” Spencer said. “Should they not be able to defend themselves? If you’ve served your time, you should have your rights restored.”
Oklahoma gun laws only prohibit gun ownership for people with a felony record, minors who have committed crimes, or anyone found to be mentally unfit by a court. Since 2019, the Legislature has broadened gun rights to allow residents to openly carry a firearm. Lawmakers have eliminated most licensing requirements and background checks.
Hillary Burkholder, CEO of Palomar Family Justice Center in Oklahoma City, said gun restrictions are a difficult subject to broach with lawmakers. The center offers victims resources to escape abuse.
“I know that’s an unpopular conversation to have in this state, but they’re (abusers, who are) not just killing women, they’re killing police officers,” Burkholder said. “Domestic violence abusers are the ones killing the most police.”
The federal government banned gun ownership in 1996 for anyone who has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. A Texas man convicted under the law has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican lawmakers said they are hesitant to consider bills to regulate ownership because of the possibility of constitutional rights violations.
State Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, said the majority of his colleagues will resist gun restrictions.
“There’s always a compelling exception, where someone wants to make a general rule that ultimately, at the end of the day, amends someone’s Second Amendment rights and constitutional privilege,” he said.
State Rep Jim Olsen, R-Roland, said he could see why some want to restrict an abuser found guilty of a criminal misdemeanor.
“If someone is convicted of some kind of violent crime in relation to (domestic violence), then I’m going to say the case might be stronger for at least a temporary restriction on firearms rights, possibly,” he said.
As for limiting the gun rights of someone subject to a protective order without a criminal conviction, Olsen said the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty has to be upheld.
“Short of a conviction, we certainly wouldn’t want to restrict anyone’s Second Amendment right,” he said.
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