DALLAS – Dallas County is about to start taking guns out of the hands of abusers.
As soon as this week, Dallas will become the only county in the state to collect and store weapons taken from domestic violence offenders. Officials expect to collect upwards of 700 weapons annually at a private gun range near Love Field that has agreed to provide storage space for the project.
"This is new," said Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place, a Dallas domestic violence shelter. "This is landmark. Getting guns out of the hands of abusers will save lives."
Federal and state law forbids those convicted of domestic violence or with emergency protective orders from possession firearms, but Dallas didn't have a way to accept the surrendered guns.
"Pretty much when I ordered guys that they couldn't have guns anymore, it was pretty much on your honor," said County Criminal Court Judge Roberto Cañas, one of two judges who handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases. "It's been a gap in the system response to this type of crime."
Cañas has been heading up the "Firearm Surrender Project." He convinced DFW Gun Range to act as the storage facility. A deputy has been assigned to work at the private gun range.
Dallas County commissioners recently approved the project. The governor's office has also given the county a grant of about $37,000 to help cover start-up costs, as well as the personnel costs of the deputy. They're asking for nearly double that amount next year.
Previously, the biggest obstacle officials had to overcome was where to store the guns. The county didn't have room. The police department didn't, either.
And that's how DFW Gun Range came into the picture.
"We cater to gun owners," said Jim Pisoni, the owner of the gun range. "We provide a much more convenient and, I guess, friendly environment for them to come to."
Here's how it will work:
Offenders will be asked if they have a gun. If they do, they'll be ordered to surrender them and show proof that they did so.
They can either make arrangements with the sheriff's department to turn them into the gun range, or they can relinquish them to a third party who has the legal right to have a gun.
Judges also will be talking to victims and checking for concealed handgun licenses or other records that show the offender may have a weapon.
Cañas said officials would obviously prefer that offenders use the gun range, because it's a safe and secure location.
"In those situations where the offender can have the gun back, the sheriff's office can give them the gun back and the offender can rest assured that their firearm will be secure," Cañas said.
Cañas has trained judges on how the program will work. He's also planning to do training with criminal defense attorneys, as well as those that work in family court.
Statistics show just how lethal a gun can be in a domestic violence situation.
A woman is 500 times more likely to lose her life in a domestic violence incident if there's gun in the home. Firearms are involved in about 60 percent of domestic violence related homicides in Texas.
"There's no doubt that the intersection of firearms and domestic violence is a very lethal one," Cañas said. "If we can take a step that will even prevent one homicide, this project will be worth it."