IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Dozens of Iowa residents have been convicted of violating a state law that bans domestic abusers from owning guns in the five years it’s been in effect, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.
Those convicted include people who used guns to kill others, threaten their current and former spouses and shoot at police officers, the AP review shows.
The law, signed by then-Gov. Chet Culver in 2010, bars individuals who are subjects of permanent protective orders and who have committed domestic violence-related misdemeanors from owning guns. Violating the prohibition is a felony that carries up to five years in prison.
Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller and other backers of the law, which took years of lobbying to pass, predicted that it would save lives by keeping guns away from dangerous individuals. They said that more than 100 Iowa residents had been killed by firearms in domestic disputes in the prior 15 years, nearly half of all such killings.
Experts say it’s hard to measure what role the law is playing, but the number of people shot and killed in domestic incidents has dropped since its passage, according to data from Iowa Attorney General’s Office. An average of five people were shot to death every year in such cases since 2011, compared to nearly 8 per year between 1995 and 2010.
Anecdotal reports suggest the law is helping victims, according to the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which supported the law’s passage.
“We know that victims feel safer when their batterer has had their firearms removed. It allows them a sense of security,” spokeswoman Lindsay Pingel said.
Judges must order guns be taken away from someone when he or she is convicted of domestic violence crimes or when a protective order is issued. Offenders can sell guns or transfer them to a person approved by the court or a law enforcement agency for safekeeping. Their conviction is entered into a state database, which makes them unable to pass a federal background check to buy guns.
No agency tracks how many times offenders have been required to relinquish their guns. In 2014, Iowa courts issued 2,700 protective orders for domestic abuse.
Data from the Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning shows that 84 people have been convicted under the firearms law in 39 of Iowa’s 99 counties and all but one were men.
Prosecutors often brought those charges after guns were used to commit other crimes. Those convicted include a Davenport man who accidentally shot and killed his roommate, a suicidal man who fired at Des Moines police officers and a man who threatened relatives with a rifle in Graettinger.
The number of cases is similar to the 20 per year that legislative analysts had predicted, even though two of the state’s most populous counties (Linn and Johnson) haven’t had any.
Critics, including some Republicans who opposed the law, warned it could unfairly take away gun rights as a result of messy court cases. But the law has survived a challenge by a man who argued it interfered with his constitutional right to bear arms and punished him retroactively for a domestic assault he committed in 1994.
In 2011, Donovan Grimes assaulted his stepson, was jailed and became subject to a no-contact order. An officer found shotguns, rifles and a revolver in the house, and Grimes was charged with violating the gun ban.
The Iowa Court of Appeals rejected Grimes’ arguments, with Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran writing: “His acts of family violence together with his ownership of several guns were precisely the circumstances the law was designed to address.”
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