PROHIBITED POSSESSOR: “It’s tricky.” Judge’s ongoing battle to get guns out of violent abusers’ hands

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 9:52 PM MST|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 3:04 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people in domestic violence cases is the goal behind a pilot program now underway in Tucson.

A magistrate judge worked to get federal grant funding for the program.

Gracie McDonough remains in fear for her life. Her ex-boyfriend and the father of her son are now on probation after being sentenced for strangling her.

She’s worried he has a gun, a fear she reported to a deputy the day of the crime in April of 2022.

It’s on this Risk Assessment form.

She answered that he threatened her with a weapon before and he’s known to carry and possess a gun. Gracie had gotten a protective order stating where a gun could be.

Gracie said. " It’s just knowing him and knowing what he does, like, I’m scared to do anything still. I don’t know where it came from. But he definitely has guns and weapons and he’s a very dangerous person.”

Right now, Gracie’s ex-boyfriend is under a court order not to possess a gun.

Gracie has wanted law enforcement to check that he doesn’t have one, but that’s where it can get tricky.

A firearm wasn’t used during the crime, so according to Arizona statutes, law enforcement, generally speaking, can’t simply search for a weapon based on the victim’s word.

PCSD Detective Shawn George said, “There’s a lot of nuance to it and a lot of different circumstances that can be handled a lot of different ways.”

When 13 News Investigates asked if simply saying an accused abuser has a gun is enough, Judge Wendy Million replied, “Probably not.”

Judge Million oversees the domestic violence court in Tucson City Court and handles Initial Court Appearances for all crimes in Pima County, including felonies.

She’s reviewed many risk assessments where victims stated the accused is known to carry or possess a gun.

Million said, “These domestic violence cases, a lot of times the conditions of release if they’re violating if they have guns, the burden is always on the victims.

But now Judge Million wants to switch that around. And it starts with a new federal Firearms Grant awarded by the Dept. of Justice.

“So the burden isn’t put on the victims to prove the cases,” said Million.

The burden would shift to the accused.

Million said the federal grant would be used to improve the enforcement of court-ordered gun surrenders in domestic violence cases.

Million explained, ‘So in protective orders, you could be ordered to turn in your guns if the judge finds that there’s reasonable cause for that, but there’s no follow through to see if anyone’s ever turned in their gun.”

The court-ordered conditions of Gracie’s ex-boyfriend’s release include turning in any firearms to a law enforcement agency.

Million stressed it’s not about sending law enforcement out to seize people’s guns.

“It’s about enforcing the orders that judges write, having a good way to enforce those orders,” she said.

That’s what she’s examining.

Judge Million sought the grant because research shows domestic violence is five times more likely to be deadly when a firearm is involved.

“So it was that -- that was concerning to us,” she said.

13 News Investigates looked into whether Gracie’s ex-boyfriend has turned in any weapons.

To note: Arizona has no law requiring firearms to be registered.

His attorney told 13 News Investigates he can’t give out any information without client approval.

13 News Investigates hasn’t heard from the ex-boyfriend.

And local law enforcement told 13 News Investigates that they don’t have any record of him turning one in.

Be sure to subscribe to the 13 News YouTube channel: