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Would R.I. gun law have saved them?

August 14, 2013

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin says he would favor confiscating guns from people who are the subject of domestic violence restraining orders as a “preventive measure” that could avoid situations like the one in Johnston last Sunday when a mother and her young daughter were murdered, her son abducted and then left to roam the streets of Providence and a second daughter was found unharmed inside the home.
“Obviously the whole situation is horrific,” Kilmartin told The Times Wednesday, “innocent people dying and children being abandoned. It’s about as bad as it can get.”
Restraining orders in general serve two purposes, the attorney general said. “To hopefully protect the person seeking them and to put the person who is the subject of the restraining order that someone is definitely in fear, the courts have already taken notice, law enforcement will take notice and make what could be a more volatile situation decompress.”
That, he says, ties in with the notion of seizing any firearms in the possession of the accused abuser, to bring the person to his or her senses and allow a cooling-off period. He added, however, that the gun in the Johnston murder was possessed illegally in the first place.
“There are a lot of purposes to restraining orders, but generally speaking the more we can do to, especially in domestic situations, remove people from potential harm, move objects like a gun, if there is a proclivity toward that, out of the situation.
“We may never know how many lives we save, but I think we would save lives,” Kilmartin said.
"Our hearts go out to the family, friends and community of the two women and the three children who may have witnessed the tragedy,” Deborah DeBare, executive director of the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in the wake of the incident. “We are very saddened today at the loss of the lives of Evelyn Burgos and her daughter, Vanessa Perez.” Domestic violence all too often impacts families, friends and bystanders, and we must remember them in our response to and prevention of these cases. While the details of this particular case are still unfolding, we know that (suspect Daniel) Rodriguez has a lengthy criminal history that includes domestic violence incidents, and that Rodriguez and Burgos were involved in an ongoing domestic dispute, according to police."
"Given the police reports, it is clear that these murders did not come about suddenly or without warning; they were likely Rodriguez's final act of abuse. We must be sure to refer to this double murder as what it is: the final act of domestic violence, for murder is the ultimate expression of the abuser's need to control his partner's behavior."
Law enforcement officials say that once the restraining order was issued by the court, Rodriguez could not be located so it could be served to him.
He was not found until after the murders occurred. Noting that, “we must address the issue of firearms with regards to domestic violence perpetrators," DeBare said, “this year, Rhode Island legislature proposed, but was unable to pass, a bill that would have made it illegal for individuals such as Rodriguez who had been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, to possess firearms. We hope when legislature returns they will be able to act on this important issue and help local police keep firearms out of the hands of convicted abusers."
Responding to that statement, Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox, said in an email, "This legislation was part of the gun package that was introduced this year. While some of the bills received passage and were signed into law, there was no consensus reached among Assembly members on other bills, including this one. The Assembly will continue to work on gun issues in the next session."
A request to the Senate for a comment received no response. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday, “When you’ve got somebody who is under a domestic violence restraining order, to me it is only logical to say they shouldn’t be carrying a gun until the facts are sorted out and we can ensure they are not a danger to the person who was threatened and who the judge felt a need to protect.
“If someone is willing to take a gun and shoot someone who was their domestic partner and shoot other members of their family, it’s not clear how much difference one piece of paper is going to make,” the second term Democrat said. “Clearly, trying to keep guns out of their hands at a time like that would be valuable goal.”
“It’s a tragic story,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee said. “We’re just finding out the victim was fearful for her life. We have to have a better system.
These women know, they know intuitively, the danger they are in.”
Asked if gun control laws would have saved the victim, Chafee said, “This is a huge debate, there has to be a better system, though.”

Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron


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