FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Just eight years ago, most of the domestic violence deaths in Louisville were from strangulation. Today, more than 71 percent are from guns.
Federal law already bans domestic violence offenders from possessing a gun. In the past two years, more than a dozen states have passed similar laws to empower their local law enforcement agencies to enforce it. The bills have passed with support from both political parties in an era of heightened partisanship surrounding gun issues.
In Kentucky, similar efforts have failed in a state legislature where most members proudly display their ratings from the National Rifle Association. But a handful of state judges have been including gun bans as part of the emergency protective orders they issue in domestic violence situations. The effort has been led by Jerry Bowles, a former family court judge who now leads the Louisville Metro Domestic Violence Fatality Committee.
Bowles has traveled the state training judges on how they can order domestic violence offenders not to possess a handgun. Violating a protective order is a misdemeanor in Kentucky, but multiple violations can be a felony. In Jefferson County, the gun possession language is already preprinted on the emergency protective order forms. All a judge has to do is check a box.
“Domestic violence offenders who had access to firearms, statistics tell us it increases the risk of fatality exponentially for those victims,” Bowles said.
But while such bans have become common in Kentucky’s largest cities, the practice is sparse in other parts of the state, advocates say.
“When you get into the more rural parts of the state, it might be a lot less common,” said Mary Savage, an attorney for the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Kentucky is just traditionally such a pro-gun state and our judges are elected officials. Maybe they are sensitive to what the citizens of a particular county are thinking when it comes to, you know, someone taking their guns away from them.”
While Kentucky lawmakers have been unwilling to limit domestic violence offenders’ access to guns, they have been expanding the use of emergency protective orders. Last year, the legislature allowed couples in a dating relationship to qualify for emergency protection orders, becoming the last state in the country to do so.
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