Crime and Justice

Bill would prohibit gun possession by accused domestic abusers

Adolphe Lumumba
Adolphe Lumumba tells members of the House Judiciary Committee why he supports a bill that would expand firearm restrictions in relief from abuse orders. Lumumba's sister Anako Lumumba was shot and killed in May 2018 after obtaining an emergency relief from abuse order against her boyfriend. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The brother of a woman allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend gave his support to legislation that would prevent people accused of domestic abuse from possessing or obtaining firearms. 

“I’m not here today to save my sister. But I know there are other people out there that can be saved by this,” Adolphe Lumumba, the brother of Anako Lumumba, told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Anaoko Lumumba was allegedly shot and killed in South Burlington by her abusive ex-boyfriend, Leroy Headley, in May 2018.

The legislation, H.610, would prevent alleged domestic abusers from purchasing or keeping guns if a court has issued a relief from abuse order against them. 

Those orders are issued by courts against those suspected of domestic abuse, and can include requirements that prevent abusers from going near or contacting victims.  

But relief from abuse orders, which are issued through family courts, do not require alleged abusers to relinquish their weapons. 

Anako Lumumba
Anako Lumumba.

Anako Lumumba had repeatedly warned police that Headley was making death threats, and was in possession of a firearm in the months leading up to her murder. 

In December 2017, a court issued a temporary relief order against Headley, but he refused to give up his weapons. And once the order was up, police stopped efforts to seize Headley’s guns.

Adolphe Lumumba told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that policymakers should make it easier for police to take weapons away from domestic abusers. 

Headley has been at large since May 3, 2018, the day of Lumumba's death.  

“They knew he was a bad guy, but they didn’t have enough to take the guns away from him,” Adolphe Lumumba said. 

“It might be too late for us, but it’s not too late for other families out there,” he said.

Lawmakers proposed an initial version of the legislation requiring firearms to be removed from an accused domestic abuser weeks after Lumumba’s death. 

Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the legislation, said Wednesday that under the current system, many victims of domestic violence are afraid to seek relief from abuse orders because they know their former partners have weapons. 

Reps. Maxine Grad and Martin LaLonde
Reps. Maxine Grad, left, and Martin LaLonde are the sponsors of a bill that would expand firearm restrictions in relief from abuse orders. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

“The problem is that many survivors of domestic violence are scared to seek those orders, and scared to engage law enforcement, especially because there are firearms, and they know that the firearms are there, or could be accessed,” she said. “This changes that by decreasing the ability to have access to firearms.” 

South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke said Wednesday he supports the legislation. 

Burke said the bill should require that police conduct an investigation before a court can order law enforcement officers to take weapons away from those accused of domestic violence. The current legislation would not, and would allow victims to submit their own evidence seeking the court to remove the firearms. 

“I do think that we need the opportunity in real time, to then investigate fully that the weapons are exactly where they say they are, affirm that and then say to the court ‘Yes we need a search warrant,’” Burke said in an interview after Wednesday’s hearing.  

“I think that there needs to be an objective investigation before a warrant’s issued.” 

Chief Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson also said that law enforcement should be involved in helping victims obtain search warrants. 

“The important thing is that you should have a trained person, a police officer, to obtain the warrant and present that to a trained state’s attorney,” he told the judiciary committee.  

“I don’t know why we would want to overlook that process for a civil warrant,” Grearson said.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would consider the House’s legislation if it was sent to the Senate. 

But Sears said he was concerned that it could result in some people who haven’t committed crimes losing access to firearms. 

Sen. Dick Sears
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, speaks after the parents of a man who committed suicide hours after buying a handgun in 2018, testified in favor of a waiting period for firearm purchases last session. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“I support people that commit domestic violence not having firearms, I support people that murder people not having firearms. But I'm really concerned when we get to lesser proof that there has been a crime,” Sears said. 

"I don't want to see somebody lose their weapons that hasn't done anything."  

The legislation proposed by House would also include a provision to close the Charleston loophole, a provision that Democrats in the House and Senate, and Gov. Phil Scott, have signaled they can support

That loophole allows gun purchasers to receive certain weapons before their federal background checks are completed. The loophole was what allowed the gunman in the deadly 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, to obtain a firearm before he ultimately failed a background check. 

Senate lawmakers will propose additional gun control measures this year, including legislation to establish a waiting period for gun purchases. Last year, Scott vetoed a bill that would have created a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. 

Senators are proposing a 48-hour waiting period for all gun purchases this year. Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P Chittenden, is also proposing a bill that would ban semi-automatic weapons in some public spaces

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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