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SMU law research: Dallas County gun-surrender program yields few results, needs improvement

Each year, potentially thousands of domestic abusers in Dallas County should surrender firearms. Only 60 guns have been surrendered in two years.

Under Texas and Federal law, individuals convicted of domestic abuse are required to surrender any firearms they possess — but it rarely happens.

A team of SMU law students who spent the past year studying Dallas County’s gun-surrender efforts say the program can be improved and presented recommendations during the Twelfth Annual Conference on Crimes Against Women on May 24, 2017 at the downtown Dallas Sheraton hotel.

“It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 cases of domestic violence go through the courts each year in Dallas County, and yet only 60 guns have been turned in over the past two years,” says SMU Law professor Natalie Nanasi, director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women. Nanasi advised law students Laura Choi, Rachel Elkin and Monica Harasim in assembling the report.

“We spent the past year looking at other programs around the country, like El Paso, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. and developed recommendations on how to improve what’s being done in Dallas County,” Harasim says.

Proposed solutions include best-practice training for judges, the creation of a centralized office to coordinate efforts and increasing funding. The students compiled their recommendations in Taking Aim at Violence: A Report on the Dallas County Gun Surrender Program.

“Statistics show that the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of death by 500 percent,” Elkin says. “We hope that this report can be a tool for Dallas County leaders to use to expand and improve the Gun Surrender Program.”

The students presented their findings alongside Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Roberto Cañas, who first attempted to tackle the gun-surrender problem in Dallas County in 2015 by soliciting a grant and launching a program responsible for collecting the 60 guns over two years.

Before that, there were no organized efforts to collect guns from domestic abusers.

“Initial estimates suggested that Judge Cañas’ program would collect approximately 800 guns per year, but those estimates assumed that all judges in Dallas County would participate in the program equally, (which didn’t turn out to be the case),” says Choi. “There’s no question that the program sends an important message just by existing. The fact that the program is here and is collecting weapons speaks volumes to Dallas County’s commitment to survivor safety.”

The research and report were covered by the Dallas Morning News in the article Dallas County plan to disarm domestic abusers seizes just 60 guns in 2 years — a fraction of goal, and by Fox 4 News in their TV report Study: Dallas County gun confiscation program from domestic violence offenders falls shortKenny Ryan, SMU