Every month, advocates at the Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City receive between 200 and 250 calls from local police officers on domestic violence calls. In each of these cases, the officer has done a risk assessment and found a “high lethality” danger.
When this happens, the first responder makes the call to a help line and hands the phone to the victim. What usually does not happen, though, is that her abuser’s gun is confiscated.
That’s nonsensical, needless and, hopefully, about to change in Kansas City.
On Wednesday at Rose Brooks, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas will formally announce an ordinance he’s introducing this week that would allow local authorities to arrest and take firearms away from those who have been found guilty of even misdemeanor charges in connection with intimate partner violence. This would also apply to anyone under a protective order.
A 22-year-old Kansas City woman who recently left an abusive relationship after nine years — almost half of her life — said her partner has been arrested several times for hurting her, but was quickly released each time, “and it would start all over again.”
“It” involved tracking her movements, timing even how long it took her to run an errand. There was physical abuse and when she tried to leave, homicidal threats, sometimes with gun in hand, against her and their 6-year-old daughter: “He said if he couldn’t have us, nobody would.”
Might this ordinance have made her safer sooner? She thinks so. And though there’s no way of knowing for sure, we do know that as she says, there are too many women in abusive situations who “you never hear from until it’s too late.”
Asked if she had often called police for help, she said “not that many” times, no. “Maybe 20 or 25 times, because I really never had access to a phone.”
If you read The Star at all regularly, you know that the risk of being murdered by a husband or boyfriend is not theoretical. About 600 American women every year are shot to death by an abusive partner. On Oct. 20, 22-year-old Kansas City newlywed Haylee Atagi-Barker, who had just announced that she was pregnant that same day, was shot and killed by her 21-year-old husband, who then killed himself.
We agree with the mayor that this ordinance would save lives. A study published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that states that have passed laws like this have seen a 13% reduction in intimate partner shooting homicides.
More than half of all mass shootings are committed by men with a history of domestic violence. And according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, access to a gun makes it five times more likely that an abusive partner will kill his female victim.
While it’s true that felons are already prohibited from carrying, the mayor points out that “our federal prosecutors aren’t usually bringing small misdemeanor cases on simple gun possession for someone, let’s say who just has a restraining order.”
Every year, similar legislation is proposed in Jefferson City, and every year, the Republican majority gets out in front of it. Some years, it never even gets out of committee.
Hard as it is to believe that anyone would think those who are proven threats to their partners and others should be armed, that’s where we are, and have been for quite some time.
“People who have been threats to their partners should not legally be able to walk around with weapons,” Lucas said in an interview. “It’s a disservice to the people of Missouri that our laws don’t reflect that, but in Kansas City, we have an opportunity to cure that.”
While the maximum penalty would be six months and a fine, those arrested under this ordinance would almost certainly not, given the current inadequate, overcrowded and porous downtown detention center, spend much time behind bars. Still, as Lucas said, “Even if they get out the next day, you took the gun from them.”
The 22-year-old woman who recently got away from her abuser was afraid she might never escape. Yet she did, right? “I like to think I got out of it,” she said, “but you never know.”
That’s all too true, unfortunately. But if we could make even one person in her situation safer for any length of time, why wouldn’t we?