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The Third Branch

New firearm surrender requirements in effect

By Amber Peterson, Office of Court Operations

Effective Nov. 1, Wisconsin courts are required to hold follow-up firearm surrender hearings in any case where the court grants a domestic abuse, child abuse, individual at risk, or harassment injunction, finds that the respondent owns or possesses firearms, and orders surrender of those firearms. The new requirements are the result of 2013 WI Act 321, also known as the Stopping Abuse Fatalities through Enforcement (SAFE) Act.

The purpose of the new legislation is to ensure that respondents comply with the court's order to surrender firearms in injunction cases. The majority of the new firearm surrender requirements are contained in Wis. Stat. § 813.1285, which is newly created section of Chapter 813. Highlights of the requirements contained in the legislation include:

To help counties prepare for the Nov. 1 effective date, the Director of State Courts Office offered five regional trainings throughout the state from May through October. The training was funded by the STOP Violence Against Women grant and the target audience included judges, court commissioners, clerks of court and staff, law enforcement, and advocates. The faculty was comprised of Commissioner David Keck, Winnebago County Circuit Court; Rochelle Skorlinski, evidence and records coordinator for the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office; Danielle Long, criminal justice program analyst for the Department of Justice; and Amber Peterson, circuit court policy and procedures advisor for the Office of Court Operations. In total, more than 280 individuals attended the trainings.

Based on feedback provided at the trainings, many believe that the new firearm surrender requirements will help protect victims of domestic violence and improve the court's handling of injunction cases. Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez, La Crosse County Circuit Court, commented that "abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. This legislation will save lives."

Similarly, Keck said, "the SAFE Act empowers the courts and law enforcement to take a proactive approach to removing firearms from offenders at the time they are statistically most likely to use them. It will have an immediate and lasting positive effect on the community as it is implemented statewide."

To assist counties with implementation of the firearm surrender requirements, there are two new procedures posted on CourtNet: (1) Firearm Surrender Procedures for Judges and Court Commissioners; and (2) Firearm Surrender Hearing Procedures for Clerks. The procedures can be found on CourtNet under the "Civil / Small Claims" heading.

For more information about the firearm surrender legislation, contact Amber Peterson in the Office of Court Operations at (608) 267-7764 or amber.peterson@wicourts.gov.

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