ST. PAUL, Minn. - “The system failed them in some way. It did!”
State Senator Ron Latz (DFL – St Louis Park) says Minnesota is leaving victims of domestic violence at risk.
“We need to do a better job of protecting those victims,” Latz said after reviewing the findings of a KARE 11 investigation which found Minnesota courts repeatedly failing to follow up on orders requiring abusers to give up their guns.
Sen. Latz sponsored Minnesota’s 2014 Domestic Violence Firearm Act, bipartisan legislation designed to take guns out of the hands of abusers.
“When you combine that likelihood of violence with access to firearms, it’s a very dangerous combination,” Latz said. “And we know quite often when there are firearms deaths, gun-related deaths, they arise out of domestic-related violent conflicts.”
The law Latz sponsored mandates that after an Order For Protection (OFP) civil hearing, if a judge determines that domestic abuse has occurred, the alleged abuser has three days to transfer firearms to someone else or to law enforcement for as long as the order is in effect.
In addition, the law requires the abuser to file an affidavit with the court detailing where the firearms went along with their make and serial number.
However, when KARE 11 spent weeks reviewing individual OPF files we discovered case after case in which no affidavit had been filed – even though court records document that domestic abuse victims had claimed a firearm had been used or threatened.
“Why have a law, if you’re not going to enforce it?” asked KARE 11 Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe.
“Well it’s a fair question to ask,” replied Latz. “There’s no point in having a law if it’s not enforced. And it sounds like the enforcement has kind of fallen through the cracks in terms of who’s responsible to enforce it.”
Latz says he plans to consult with court officials about the aggressive enforcement strategies KARE 11 described being used in other states.
Unlike most courts in Minnesota, Wisconsin automatically schedules a compliance hearing seven days after the gun surrender order is issued. The goal is to make certain the order has been followed.
In King County, Washington, prosecutors and police formed a task force last year specifically targeting the guns of accused domestic abusers. They work with victims and scan social media sites to identify firearms that abusers may not admit to owning. Then they use search warrants and other tactics to seize the weapons.
As a result, authorities say they have quadrupled the number of guns seized from abusers.
KARE 11’s on-going investigation “A Failure to Check” found most courts in Minnesota repeatedly fail to enforce the gun transfer law.
KARE 11’s analysis of 2016 state court records revealed there were 2,937 domestic violence OFP cases that automatically required guns to be transferred.
Only 119 of them had a firearm transfer affidavit on file with the court. That means 96 percent of the time, there’s no record the abusers gave up a gun.
Since some abusers may not have guns, transfer affidavits aren’t always necessary. However, because the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to release bulk data listing all OFP cases, there is no way to tell exactly how many of them specifically claimed guns were part of the domestic violence.
Even so, Latz says KARE 11’s investigation shows what Minnesota has been doing is not working.
“You’ve done the research, you’ve gone to the courthouses, you’ve figured out where the affidavits are being turned in, where they’re not,” said Latz. “And based on that information we can identify that there’s a problem and we can take steps to solve it.”
If you are the victim of domestic violence and are looking for help, here's the number for the Minnesota Day One Crisis Line.