Law enforcement and judge express concerns about lawmakers push for confiscations

Michael Bielawski/TNR

BOOTS ON THE GROUND: Shawn Burke, chief of police for the South Burlington Police Department, explained what’s at stake in doing gun confiscations for relief from abuse orders.

MONTPELIER — As lawmakers consider legislation that would prevent people involved in serious domestic disputes from having a gun, one prominent law enforcement figure and a judge told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that enforcement of the bill would present substantial challenges and risks.

Specifically, H.610 states that if a relief from abuse order is issued against a person, that person must not have a gun. If an alleged abuser owns one, the police must be informed of its location for confiscation purposes. Also, the individual cannot enter any home where guns are present.

Key testimony came from Shawn Burke, chief of police for the South Burlington Police Department. He told lawmakers that any time police are asked to enter a resident’s home — especially to confiscate property from someone who is upset — that’s a highly dangerous situation.

“Anytime we are endeavoring to apply for a search warrant to go into someone’s home, the courts have told us that is the most [sanctified] place for people,” he said. ” … I do feel that it would be a big ask of our rural communities with … one officer to try to not only serve a bench order to maybe vacate or not, and then search and seize firearms.”

Sometimes gun confiscations have resulted in disasters. In November 2018, a man in Maryland was shot and killed by police during a “red flag gun confiscation order.”

He said both the legal implications and physical dangers are substantial enough that even though the court has issued the warrant, police still need to gain their own understanding of the situation before going in.

“I think we need to be part of the investigation so that we know exactly what the evidence at this point is telling us — what we have learned through our objective investigation,” he said.

He also reminded committee members that officers are already stretched thin, especially in some rural areas.

“We’re all starving to find qualified folks,” he said.

Also providing a law enforcement perspective was Brian Grearson, the chief administrative judge of the Vermont Superior Courts. He said having lawmakers instruct on how to handle complicated domestic disputes might not be useful.

“There is nothing average about any relief from abuse order,” he said.

He said courts already have the power to inquire about guns in these situations, and that certain criteria must be met for any confiscation to go forward. First, the plaintiff needs to indicate that a firearm might be present, and that this poses a danger. There should be similar documentation in the affidavit which indicates that a gun should be taken away.

Grearson said H.610, as written, basically takes decision making away from the court.

“I would be very concerned if the legislature starts telling judges what they have to ask,” he said.

Rep. Thomas Burditt, R-Rutland and vice-chair of the committee, suggested the real problem with some domestic disputes is  that relief from abuse orders need to be enforced better.

“Some of the testimony I heard today was an RFA or vacate order, whatever the order, there’s violation, violation, violation and then the murder. … It seems like there need to be more teeth in the RFA,” he said.

At the start of the hearing, the committee heard from the family members of victims of gun violence. One of those was Courtney Gaboriault, of Barre, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in July 2018. He broke into her apartment and shot her multiple times.

Cassondra Johns, the treasurer of Courtney’s Allies, recounted the tragedy.

“She took precautions because she knew her ex-partner was dangerous,” Johns said. “She had spoken to people in his life about her concerns about his behavior and stated that she was scared because she knew that he had possession of firearms. Her pleas for help were ignored because the people close to him did not really believe he could be a threat when in fact he was.”

In addition to restricting gun access during domestic disputes, H.610 also would force gun purchasers to wait until their FBI background checks are complete, which can take months in some cases. It also allows for health care workers and family members to report someone as being unfit to own a gun.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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15 thoughts on “Law enforcement and judge express concerns about lawmakers push for confiscations

  1. All I see is an attack on law abiding citizens.

    Not one rule passed by the state in 2 years affects criminals. Even if they did, enforcement nationally is so sporadic and random it makes your unlawful rules meaningless.

    You politicians are going to get police officers and civilians killed. I hope everyone who suffers a loss comes to thank you face to face.

  2. We should have a lottery to include the names of all the politicians who vote for this and have a drawing every time a confiscation order is issued. That lucky winner should be the one to knock on the door with the law enforcement officer behind him or her as back up and give the news to the persons whos guns are being confiscated. In fairness that politician’s name will not be included in the next drawing. Good Luck !

  3. Criminals & Crazies do not follow any laws and apparently most Liberal
    politicians don’t follow the Constitution ……….So where’s the problem ??

    Law-abiding Citizens, stand up and be counted.

  4. Aren’t many of the leftist fascist wanting gun grabbing aware of the consequence that
    can and will befall the “grabbers”???

    These are undoubtedly the same ones complaining of all the state police shooting already….
    The red flag laws are going to create more shootings and legislators should be held to
    account for it.

  5. If you have not figured out that your job is to vote out the crazies, then please pay better attention to the visible erosion of your liberties in America and act accordingly.

  6. “It also allows for health care workers and family members to report someone as being unfit to own a gun.”

    There’s certainly nothing that could go wrong with that, is there? In the removal of a Constitutional right, you wouldn’t even be granted the Constitutional right to face your accuser.

    The race is on to shred our Constitution.

  7. If an abused person (of either gender) knows how a volatile spouse will react to having their prized firearm confiscated, will they be eager to come out of the woodwork to ask for help? Or will this law result in more endangered people staying in the shadows, too afraid to ask for help?

    And if an abused person does show the courage to have the spouse’s prized property confiscated, what will happen when this volatile person next comes in contact with the abused?

    This law has a very high probability of getting someone killed.

  8. “She took precautions because she knew her ex-partner was dangerous” – If one of those precautions was to purchase a firearm for her home defense and “H.610 also would force gun purchasers to wait until their FBI background checks are complete” it would highlight the downside of this legislation. It is notable that criminals and psychopaths obtain firearms by channels that don’t even ask for identification, so these laws might as well be labeled “Criminal Protection Acts” that shift the balance of power in their favor. While there’s always some risk of an adverse reaction in trying to take someone’s property for whatever reason, it seems a more opportune time for taking custody of the individual could reduce the risk. There’s a certain justification for opening fire on someone who comes charging into your home, and shouting POLICE! proves nothing – any felon can do it and there are documented instances of that.

  9. When are our legislators going to stop attacking issues that are not a problem in this State. They are constantly attacking honest, law abiding citizens instead of addressing the many issues that really need their attention such as the drug problem of the mental problems or the massive shortfall in pension accounts.
    These liberals do not want to stray away from their agenda at any cost. When are Vermonters going to wake up and vote these fools out of office.

    • The simple answer is that none of these legislators are ever held to account for the mayhem and potential death they create.It is always easier to go after the law abiding than the criminal. Then couple that with the fact that progressives are incrementally chipping away at freedom in general. They believe and have demonstrated that the goal is power through disarming and intimidating people who are not the problem. Another reality is that while these progressives are sipping wine in the safety of their homes, police officers have to knock on a door and face a dangerous situation. That officer may not go home that night but the virtue signalling ideologue progressive shrugs it off as a necessity to achieve a goal in the war for controlling people to retain their power..Most of these power hungry ego driven politicians have stolen our institutions and are not from Vermont. They took an oath and they have perjured it and I believe that many are awaking to the fact that their removal from office is long over due.

      • Our elected Sheriffs need to stand up and be counted – will they violate their oath and participate in this unconstitutional activity or will they join with the thousands of other Sheriffs around the country and refuse?

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