Victim advocate says Connecticut needs new gun ban

In this Dec. 30, 2014 photo, Natasha Pierre, Connecticut's new victim advocate, poses in her office in Hartford, Conn. Pierre said her top priorities include defending the state's strict gun laws and supporting legislation that would allow police to seize guns from people placed under temporary restraining orders. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s new victim advocate is joining other state and federal officials in calling for a stronger gun ban to better protect domestic violence victims.

Natasha Pierre took office Monday and technically will be interim victim advocate until the legislature approves her appointment by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She previously served as policy and legislative director for the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and as a legal aid lawyer representing low-income victims of domestic violence.

Pierre, 44, of Windsor, said one of her priorities will be pushing state legislators to add a gun ban to Connecticut’s law on temporary restraining orders. Firearm bans are issued in permanent restraining orders but not in temporary ones, which Pierre and other advocates call a dangerous loophole.

Malloy proposed the same law change in September during his re-election campaign. Several Democratic federal lawmakers, including Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, are backing a similar federal proposal.

Temporary restraining orders generally are in place for two weeks until a hearing is held before a judge to allow the subjects of such orders to contest them. Pierre said temporary orders and other legal filings can be triggers to violence and a gun ban is needed in the two weeks before the orders become permanent.

“When a woman leaves her abuser, that period of time is the most dangerous time,” Pierre said. “It’s very dangerous. The person (abuser) realizes they’ve lost control of the situation. If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen during that time period.”

There have been about 14 domestic violence homicides each year over the past decade in the state, with guns used in nearly 40 percent of the deaths, according to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. They are among about 20,000 family violence incidents in the state each year. State judges issue about 9,000 restraining orders a year, according to the coalition.

If the temporary restraining order law were the same as the one for permanent orders, people subjected to the orders would not be able to buy firearms because their gun permits would be automatically revoked and that would show up on background checks, said Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.

Lawlor also said state and local police have been training in recent months to better assess domestic disputes to see if anyone is in danger, including checking access to guns and determining if legal actions were filed recently.

Pierre said she also wants to make sure Connecticut’s gun laws, some of the strictest in the nation, aren’t watered down by legislation. Her other priorities include monitoring police cold-case investigations and assessing new state rules on how colleges respond to sexual assaults.

Pierre succeeds Garvin Ambrose, who resigned in July after nearly a year and a half in the job to return to his hometown of Chicago to become chief of staff at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. The victim advocate is an ombudsman between crime victims and the criminal justice system and evaluates state services for victims.

Pierre, a Hartford native who volunteered as a rape counselor while attending the University of Connecticut, said advocacy has been her life’s calling.

“I think everybody has a purpose, and for me it’s helping people,” she said. “When tragedy strikes, it’s sometimes hard to get past it. And if you’ve never been involved in the justice system, you don’t know what to do.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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