Protecting Nevada Victims of Domestic Violence and Stalking: We Could Be Doing A Better Job

By almost any common sense standard Ronald E. Haskell should not have had a firearm. By almost any ethical standard he should not have had access to a firearm considering his past behavior towards his ex-wife, and by any moral standard he should not have taken his gun and assassinated six people in Spring, TX, and attempted to murder a seventh. There are three pieces of legislation in Congress which might have prevented this tragedy — and all three are opposed by the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers who support it.  [MJ]

It doesn’t do to sit out here in the Nevada sage brush and lament the problems far away in Texas without considering our own situation in regard to domestic violence and gun ownership.

In 2011, 35% of female homicide victims were killed during a domestic violence incident, and firearms accounted for the deaths of 214 women between 2001 and 2010. [CAP pdf] Let’s approach this rationally.

First, do we have a problem with domestic violence in the State?  Figures from the Nevada Department of Public Safety may indicate that we do. The latest general report available online (pdf) shows the number of domestic violence incidents — of all types — increasing during the period from 2000 to 2005.  There were 20,653 DVIs in 2000, followed by 26,417 in 2001. There were 26,691 in 2002 and another 27,915 in 2003.  2004 totals were 29,233 and in 2005 there were 31,247.  Evidently, things didn’t get much better by 2009.

When the Violence Policy Center rated states according to females murdered by males in single victim homicides by rate, Nevada came up #1, with a 2.70, beating out Alabama with a 2.64 rate and Louisiana with a rate of 1.99. [VPC pdf]  The Nevada Legislature took some serious steps to correct the dismal statistics in the early 2000’s in 2007, [DB] and we have seen some improvement.

Happily, by 2011 the Nevada ranking had dropped to 16th with a rating of 1.48. [VPC pdf] The bad news is that this ranking is still in the “Top 20” nationally. We obviously have room for improvement to reach Illinois at 0.27, Massachusetts at 0.53, and Vermont at 0.36. [VPC pdf]  We do know that during the period 2003 and 2012 there were 221 domestic violence homicides in Nevada and 52.9% of the fatalities were caused by guns. [CAP pdf]  There are some steps we could take to improve our numbers.

What can be done to improve the situation?  As noted many times in this venue, Nevada should have universal background checks to determine if any of the categories of persons who are proscribed from firearm ownership are attempting to purchase weaponry.   The sorry history of S. 221 was most recently discussed here in an article about the Background Check Initiative.  In short, without at least a cursory background check there is little way to determine if the buyer is subject to the restrictions on firearm possession set forth in NRS 33.031 and NRS 33.033.

The permissive language in NRS 33.031 is also a potential loophole through which a miscreant could retain or acquire firearms.  The statute says, “a court MAY include” within an NRS 33.030 extended restraining order the provision that the “adverse party” will surrender firearms, and cannot possess them while the order is in effect.  In order to attach this proviso, the court must decide that the “adverse party” has a (1) documented history of domestic violence, (2) Has used or threatened to use a firearm to injure or harass the applicant, a minor child or any other person, or (3) Has used a firearm in the commission or attempted commission of any crime.  First, it doesn’t appear that this provision can be applied during a temporary restraining order — the first one issued after the violent incident.  Secondly, the firearm surrender requirement is spoken of only in terms of the extended order of protection.  Granted this gives the “adverse party” some representational rights, since the temporary order might not include the presence of our “adverse party,” in court.  However, it also presents some practical issues.

A Nevada Court has one “judicial” day to consider a temporary restraining order of protection, but it has 45 days in the instance of an application for an extended order. [NRS 33.020]  Thus we have a potential circumstance in which a person with a documented history of domestic violence, one who has used or threatened to shoot the applicant, the children, or others, or has already used a firearm in the commission of a crime — has more than a month of “free” firearm possession in this State. That’s certainly sufficient time for the “adverse party” to locate and endanger the remainder of the family.

One possible solution to the problem might be to eliminate the permissive “may”  from the provisions regarding an extended order of protection and simply say that if the “adverse party” meets the three criteria then law enforcement “will” take custody of the individual’s firearms.  Additionally, if the court finds that there is ample evidence of previous incidents of domestic violence, or clear and present danger from immediate threats, then it “may” remove the firearms during the period covered by the temporary restraining order.

There is no intent in this suggestion to permanently deprive any individual of his 2nd Amendment entertainment devices, merely to secure them while a domestic situation remains volatile.  Nor is this a “blank check” for government to “take guns away” without Constitutional protections — the permissive language (may) pertaining to the temporary restraining order gives the court some latitude to determine the extent of the volatility, and to protect the victim, and, to no small extent, protect our “adverse party” from doing something in the heat of the moment he might regret for the rest of his life.

There is also some elasticity in Nevada laws which place some women and children at risk.  NRS 200.575 discusses stalking, which is a misdemeanor for the first offense, and a gross misdemeanor for the second.  Nevada adds a category of “aggravated stalking:”

“A person who commits the crime of stalking and in conjunction therewith threatens the person with the intent to cause the person to be placed in reasonable fear of death or substantial bodily harm commits the crime of aggravated stalking. A person who commits the crime of aggravated stalking shall be punished for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.”

It is only when the stalker adds threats of death and substantial bodily harm that he would be committing a felony, and thus ineligible to possess firearms under Nevada law.  This sounds reasonable until we run into the problematic nature of stalker mentalities.  After a conviction for a first and second offense the individual may still acquire firearms, if the victim can’t prove a fear of “death or substantial bodily harm,” beyond a reasonable doubt.  The background check would not exclude the individual unless he’s already convicted of felonious, or “aggravated” stalking since stalking convictions are misdemeanors for the first two offenses.

Another suggestion:  Make the imposition of an order of protection mandatory in all cases of stalking. In the instance of a first conviction the court “may” include the surrender of firearms in the order, and “shall” include it in the case of a second conviction; especially if the stalking is done to the same victim as in the first case.   Current law (NRS 200.591) permits a court to issue a temporary or extended order of protection but doesn’t require it.  Might women and families be safer if the temporary order were applied for the first offense, with the provision that the court “may” include the surrender of deadly weapons?  They would certainly seem to be safer if an extended order was immediately applied after the second conviction, and proscribed the possession of firearms for the duration of the order.

The slippage in the system comes, of course, when there is no background check required for all gun sales, such that after the misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions the stalker can simply purchase a firearm at a gun show and move on to the felony he may have been contemplating.

Spare me the “law abiding citizens” argument from the 2nd Amendment extremists.  A person who commits domestic violence has broken the law. A person who stalks another person in the state of Nevada has broken the law.  This is not law-abiding behavior.  When a person’s behavior is classified as a misdemeanor, a gross misdemeanor, or a class B felony — it is not law-abiding. Period.

Spare me the “Big Plot To Take Guns” argument. No one is speaking of temporary or extended orders of protection which deprive the non-law-abiding of their 2nd Amendment playthings in perpetuity. When the stalker hits the B Felony grade he’s done it to himself; if he’s still in the misdemeanor range the surrender of firearms lasts only as long as the orders of protection.

And, finally, spare us the misery of a rendition of the Spring, TX massacre in the Silver State.

 

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