Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, D-Lenexa, spoke about pending Senate legislation compelling domestic abusers to temporarily relinquish firearms for an edition of the Kansas Reflector podcast. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Rep. Jo Ella Hoye is convinced someone convicted of domestic violence or subjected to protection from abuse order and prohibited from carrying a firearm shouldn’t be allowed to live in a residence stocked with guns and rifles.
Right now that felon busted for abuse or viewed by the court as a potential threat to others doesn’t have to temporarily surrender the guns stored in the home to law enforcement or a federally licensed gun dealer.
“Domestic violence continues to be a problem for Kansas families, especially women in Kansas and as well as children, and we know that the presence of a gun makes domestic violence situations become deadly,” Hoye said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “Once these individuals have been convicted, they should have to relinquish the firearms that they may already have for the time period that they are prohibited from having them.”
That’s the nut of Senate Bill 192, which received a chilly reception from several legislators and law enforcement representatives during a hearing last week in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. More than one senator who views the Second Amendment as inflexible shared disdain for the bill’s creation of a system requiring relinquishment of firearms. At the same time, law enforcement officers pointed to practical shortcomings of the bill that would have county sheriffs take the lead on securing the guns and seizing concealed carry permits.
Hoye, a Lenexa Democrat, worked before elected to the Legislature as a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a national gun safety organization. She said the poignant stories shared by mothers, fathers, siblings and friends who lost others to gun violence inspired her advocacy.
It’s from that foundation that Hoye found herself as a front-line lobbyist for a 2018 law signed by Gov. Jeff Colyer prohibiting people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms. Under SB192, the issue of that person already owning a firearm would be addressed.
Existing Kansas law prohibits convicted domestic violence offenders from purchasing new weapons, but didn’t mandate relinquishment of the firearms already owned.
Domestic violence survivor Janet Federico, of Wichita, said legislators reluctant to support the Senate bill may not understand what its like to have an abuser threaten them with a gun.
“I am intimately familiar with the barrel end of my ex-partner’s Heckler and Koch .45 semiautomatic pistol,” Federico said. “I’ll never forget him standing over me and watching his finger twitch on the trigger as he decided whether he was going to let me live or die.”
She said the scene played out on two other occasions. When she eventually escaped, she said, the ex-partner vowed to hunt her down.
The Senate legislation endorsed by Federico and Hoye would require a judge to issue relinquishment orders in conjunction with convictions for stalking, battery and domestic violence. The subject of the order would have 24 hours to voluntarily surrender the firearms to the sheriff or a firearm dealer. The individual would be given 48 hours to submit a proof of relinquishment to the court.
If that didn’t occur, the sheriff would take a court order and go to the residence to secure the weapons. The firearms could be transferred back to the owner after completing the time designated by the court.
“If you don’t want to lose your firearms, don’t be a violent person,” Hoye said. “This is specifically relating to people who are not law abiding gun owners. This bill has immediate opportunity to save lives.”
Seventy percent of women killed by an intimate partner in Kansas die from gun wounds. By last count, there have been 17 homicides in Kansas related to domestic violence in 2022. Ten of these deaths involved firearms.
Critics said the bill was potentially in conflict with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which outlined circumstances under which law enforcement may seize someone’s gun. Questions were raised about escalating the risk of officers serving the gun warrants, about who paid for storage of so many firearms, whether the state could seize concealed gun permits issued by other states, and whether it was legal to seize a gun not used in a crime.
“In reality, a person who has their firearms confiscated under this bill who intends to cause harm to the victim or their family will find ways to obtain yet another firearm or simply to use another weapon,” said Ed Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief who lobbies for the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police and the Kansas Peace Officers Association.
Hoye said objections of law enforcement rang hollow because the purpose of the bill was to protect children and families from potential violence.
“I feel that we need to stop, you know, nitpicking around and figure out a way to create this clear process so that we can keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers,” Hoye said.
Meanwhile, a report in the Journal of American Medical Association suggested “stand your ground” laws coincided with a national increase in firearm homicides. Stand your ground laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force in self-defense with no obligation to retreat.
Kansas and Missouri saw some of the nation’s most dramatic increases in gun homicides outside of the South. From 1999 through 2017, Kansas documented a 27% increase in gun homicide. Kansas’ stand your ground law, also known as the shoot-first law, was implemented in 2010. Nearly 30 states have comparable statutes.
Hoye said residents always had the right to self-defense, but the stand your ground movement extended boundaries of that principle to the workplace, vehicles and the protection of property.
“This has really empowered and emboldened people,” Hoye said. “Really, the impact of this law is that we have seen people get away with murder.”
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