SPOKANE, Wash. -- A one of kind task force in Western Washington is working to fix a failing federal law meant to protect domestic violence victims.
When someone files a protection order, a judge must ensure the people served with the order either turn in their guns or do not have any. But nearly half of accused abusers miss their firearms hearing. Many who attend, officials said, simply lie and say they do not have any. In response, the Seattle City Council pledged $1 million to create a task force.
Experts say getting guns out of abusers' hands early is key because victims are in greatest danger right when they leave them. They say when a domestic abuser owns a gun, the victim is five times more likely to be killed.
"It's already dangerous enough for a victim to leave, for a victim to start the process of getting a protection order and then you add a gun, that just escalates all the risk to them," said Legal Advocate at the YMCA Courtney Pettitt.
In the last decade in Washington, nearly 400 victims of domestic abuse were killed in shootings.
"The most dangerous time for a woman is when she makes that decision to get out of a violent relationship because that's when the offender realizes that she's making a break and, 'if I can't have her no one will.' That's the thought process they go through. That's the process and that's the reality of it, that's that dangerous time and if they have access to weapons, that increases their likelihood of being a homicide victim," said Spokane Police Corporal Jordan Ferguson.
As it stands now, police in Spokane still have to rely on the domestic abusers to tell the truth about owning guns.
"Right now, we're basically taking the offender at their word," Ferguson said. "We hear stories of, well he gave them to his dad, he gave them to his friend or he went and pawned them."
Both police and advocates at the YWCA said that is why Spokane needs a task force like the one started in King County. The task force on the west side of the state researches all domestic violence protection orders and checks for firearms. Already, the number of guns seized there has quadrupled. Domestic violence advocates believe the same thing would happen in Spokane.
"There's so many guns that they found and I think that we would have the exact same amount and it would increase the safety so much for victims if we could have that," Pettitt said.
To make a task force in Spokane a reality though, it would take more funding and more staff.
“In general, domestic violence is underfunded and under staffed, so the more resources we could get the better we could serve our community,” Pettitt said.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, the YWCA wants to help. They can help create safety plans for victims, connect them with temporary housing and provide a way out. They also have a 24 hour crisis line at 509-326-2255.
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