Kansas House bill would remove guns from abusers

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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 26, 2021:

TOPEKA — In 2009, Tyesha McNair was shot and killed by her ex-partner after deciding to leave the abusive relationship.

McNair had obtained a protective order against the father of her children. As she and her friend packed her belongings, her ex entered the home with a gun and shot and killed her.

Now LaTonya Boyd, McNair’s mother and a volunteer member of the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action, is urging legislators to pass House Bill 2251, which would require relinquishment of firearms in instances of domestic violence.

“Right now, women and families in Kansas remain in danger,” Boyd said. “I never want any parent to go through the kind of pain that I go through every day. Please keep women families safe from abusers by making sure the guns that they may already have will be relinquished to a law enforcement agency.”

Under one of two bills heard Friday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, the court would issue an order to the defendant requiring relinquishment of firearms in their custody and any conceal carry license. This would occur should there be a protective order against them, or they have been convicted of domestic battery or any misdemeanor domestic violence offense.

The defendant must relinquish all firearms to the sheriff of the county in which the court issued the order or to a local licensed federal firearms dealer. Concealed carry licenses must be relinquished to the sheriff.

Possession of a firearm or license while a relinquishment order is in effect would be considered a level-8 felony offense.

A third of children under the age of 13 who are victims of gun homicide are related to family violence, said Dena Hubbard, of the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Those who survive the ordeal endure a lifetime of trauma including PTSD, school performance issues and mental health difficulties, she said.

“Domestic violence does not discriminate. It does not discriminate based on your class, your race, ethnicity, your political views. It affects everyone,” Hubbard said. “It also extends beyond that of the abuser and the victim. This involves children, families and law enforcement who must respond.”

Statistics provided by a representative of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence indicated the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it 500 times more likely that a homicide will occur.

However, judges and law enforcement were concerned the bill would not be within the scope of their authority under state law. According to the Attorney General’s Office, if enacted, the bill would likely be challenged on constitutional grounds.

“These well-intended efforts in this bill fall grossly short and, in my opinion, even create a false sense of security for survivors,” said Dennis Butler, a representative for the Kansas Peace Officers Association and Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police. “If the bill in its current form were enacted, I just don’t believe that law enforcement is capable of fulfilling the obligations, legally, outlined in this bill.”

Lyon County District Judge Merlin Wheeler also raised concerns that even with maximum staffing, the bill would exceed their human and technological capabilities. Under state law, domestic abusers are already prohibited from possessing guns, although there is no mechanism for removal, he said.

Ending child marriage

The second bill the House panel heard would eliminate exceptions that allow Kansans younger than 18 to be eligible to give consent for marriage. Under current law, a marriage license is prohibited unless individuals are at least 15 years of age and a judge determines it is in their best interest, or they are 16 or 17 and both parents or one parent and a judge provide an exception.

Lauren Van Wagoner was a victim of child marriage and testified before the panel on the second anniversary of her divorce. She was driven to Florida and married at 17 to her 21-year-old boyfriend after her Mormon mother discovered they were intimately involved.

What followed was a 12-year horror story filled with infidelity and abuse, Van Wagoner said. In 2018, her husband left her and their four children. They were stranded in rural Kansas with no vehicle, no skillset and no college education. 

“I sold my house, and I moved, but you see, I’m one of the lucky ones. Many women do not have that opportunity,” Van Wagoner said. “Between the year 2000 and 2010, 2,500 minors were married here in the state of Kansas. Many of them get trapped in the cycle of poverty and abuse because they can’t escape.”

According to a study by the College of William and Mary Law School, women who marry early are 50% more likely to drop out of high school and four times less likely to complete college. They are also more likely to earn low wages and 31% more likely to live in poverty.

No opponents testified against the bill.

“Before you today is a rare, common sense, no-brainer of a bill. It harms no one, it costs nothing and ends the human rights abuse that is happening here in each of your districts,” said Max Robins, executive director of Students Against Child Marriage. “These marriages are not teenage love stories as you just heard, but rather young girls that are forced into harmful and abusive marriages with much older men.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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