In February, a Seattle judge ordered a man not to see his wife and to turn in his guns. Two months later, prosecutors say, he gunned down his estranged wife on a Des Moines street. Because of federal laws enacted in the early 1990s and state laws that followed, he should have lost his guns, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The same laws, which are largely ignored by law enforcement around the country, form the legal backbone for gun seizure programs and protocols in Seattle. In the past four years, the city and King County were among the few jurisdictions in the nation to start programs aimed at enforcing domestic violence gun seizure laws.
Despite the much-lauded initiatives, guns are seized in a small fraction of domestic violence cases. City authorities took in guns in 33 cases during 2006, a year when 1,771 misdemeanor domestic violence cases were prosecuted. The same year, King County reported that deputies recovered guns from 93 individuals through a surrender program out of the 1,418 reports of domestic violence. While county and city authorities defend their programs as successes, they say it’s hard to know which abusers possess firearms or how many guns are slipping by. “It sounds like an easy thing — just take the guns away from batterers. But in reality it’s much more complicated,” said Merril Cousin of the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s ended up being a lot more challenging than a lot of us initially thought.”