Earlier this year, Judge Roberto Cañas initiated a countywide program to increase gun surrenders from domestic abusers. It's a law whose lack of enforcement has a history of deadly consequences in Dallas. On Tuesday, the county commissioners court voted to fund nearly a third of the project and approved Cañas' application for state funding. The initiative launches in full across the county this October.
Aaron Setliff is the policy director for the Texas Council on Family Violence. He says that Dallas is spearheading the statewide movement to enforce gun surrender. "It's on the books right now, and a court has everything they need to make that happen," he says. "But we just need to work with communities to make this happen."
Federal law places a permanent gun prohibition on those who are indicted for domestic violence offenses, and state law bans anyone accepting a plea bargain from owning a gun for five years. But since there is no statewide list of gun owners, and Texans aren't required to register their weapons, too many gun-toting abusers in Dallas were slipping under the radar.
Cañas says incidents like the officer-involved shooting in southern Dallas on Monday could have been avoided if the suspect had been forced to surrender his gun at an earlier date. On Monday morning, Steven Douglas was shot and killed by Dallas police after pointing a gun at officers. He had been aggressively threatening his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his kids and had pointed a gun at her. Douglas had been previously convicted of domestic abuse.
It's a horrific situation that Cañas and fellow advocates are hoping to avoid in the future by making sure domestic violence offenders surrender their guns in a timely manner. And perhaps spurred into action after Monday's shooting, the Dallas County Commissioners Court jumped on board Tuesday, agreeing to provide nearly a third of the required money to move the project forward.
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"This clears the last hurdle, and so now we're just working out the last of the details and I've been working on finalizing the actual paperwork," Cañas says. The funding will go in part to the hiring of an official administrative liaison between the courts, law enforcement, and gun facilities. It will also contribute to storage costs for the firearms.
Ample data shows that guns exacerbate domestic violence situations. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, two-thirds of women killed by firearms in the U.S. each year are killed by intimate partners. And having a gun in the home makes a woman over seven times more likely to be killed by her partner. DFW Gun Range has agreed to help store the seized and surrendered firearms as part of the project.
"What we were seeing in the pilot program was that it wasn't complete success, in that without the paperwork we were still fumbling. We couldn't get any actual guns in yet because we hadn't worked out actual storage," Cañas says. "But part of the success was being able to identify guys who had the guns, making these guys comfortable enough to be honest, and letting them know they're being treated fairly."
The court's approval was also required to apply for state funding, which Cañas is confident the project will receive before October. "It's details like that now that are left. So I'm happy to be at this point," he says. "Domestic violence crimes can escalate so quickly, especially if guns are in the house. If we take guns out of the picture, you cut down on that in the future."