Phenia Martinez was 25, a mother of two young girls and about a week away from giving birth to her son, when she died violently in her Colorado apartment in January 2015. In a brutal and toxic act of domestic violence, her boyfriend stabbed her to death, leaving her family reeling for a week before police found her body.
The homicide reverberated as far as Louisiana, a state that's ranked second in the nation when it comes to domestic violence and intimate-partner homicides. It's a grim statistic that knows no socioeconomic, gender or racial boundaries.
In an attempt to strengthen protections for domestic-violence victims, the Louisiana Legislature in 2018 unanimously passed comprehensive legislation that created a groundbreaking new legal firearm transfer mechanism. Senate Bill 231 became Act 367--the Domestic Violence Prevention Firearm Transfer Act--when Governor John Bel Edwards signed it into law on May 20, 2018.
The new law enables individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms due to acts of domestic violence, intimate partner violence or protective orders to divest themselves of their prohibited weapons in an organized, safe and orderly fashion.
Act 367 built on the Bayou State's existing laws. Louisiana has long prohibited people who are convicted of felony "crimes of violence" and other offenses from possessing firearms pursuant to La. R.S. 14:95.1. In 2014, Louisiana added R.S. 14:95.10 to its criminal code, widening this prohibition to include individuals convicted of certain domestic violence offenses. Additionally, individuals subject to protective orders are often prohibited, by virtue of the orders themselves, from possessing firearms for the order's duration.
On paper and in the law books, Louisiana appeared to have ample protections in place to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic/intimate partner abusers. But these provisions lacked enforcement mechanisms.
Simply put, no mechanism existed to ensure compliance with these laws and court orders. In 2018, Louisiana lawmakers corrected that deficiency with the passage of Act 367.
A LAW BORN ON THE BAYOU
Louisiana's new firearm transfer law finds its genesis in Lafourche Parish, a rural jurisdiction about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans. Bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Lafourche is known for its namesake bayou that winds along state Highway 1, its nationally important role in the offshore oil exploration industry, its wildlife and fisheries, and its native son Freddie Falgout, said to be the United States' first casualty of World War II.
It's also where Sheriff Craig Webre, one of the youngest elected sheriffs in Louisiana, started working in 2009 on a program to divest prohibited...