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In-Depth: New case puts domestic abuse survivor protection law at stake

Domestic violence survivors concerned over U.S. Supreme Court case
Posted at 11:36 AM, Nov 27, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A recent case in the U.S. Supreme Court puts a law protecting domestic abuse survivors at risk, potentially allowing accused abusers access to firearms.

Vanessa Aguayo, who suffered from 14 years of abuse, said she felt the urge to protect her family from her father, even at the age of seven.

“When I would intervene, I would be yelling at my dad to tell him to stop, trying to pull him by his shirt to take him off my mom,” she said. “He would slap me throw me across the room. One time he got me, threw me to the floor and pinned me down, yelling at me. What could I do? I couldn’t do anything in that situation,” said Aguayo.

The oldest of five, she said it was her mother's smile that stayed with her and encouraged her to keep going. “She always has her smile no matter what,” Aguayo said when looking at photos with her mother.

Aguayo said her father sometimes threatened her mom with a gun, but it was taken away thanks to laws designed to protect domestic violence survivors.

“His hands are a weapon in itself, and putting another weapon in his hands is something I don’t want to see,” she said.

There’s a federal law that bans people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning a firearm. However, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of United States against Rahimi, recently heard arguments challenging this ban.

“This is a seminal issue for our office because of all the work we do in this area,” said Mara Elliott, City Attorney of San Diego.

Elliot is dedicated to protecting survivors of domestic abuse. In the city, she does this through gun violence restraining orders that can remove firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

“We can get that gun violence restraining order within an hour if we have to,” Elliott said.

Read more: SD City Attorney gets $1 Million for gun violence restraining order training

In the past six years, Elliott said the city has taken guns from 1,600 people, including 544 who were accused of domestic violence.

But some have different opinions on the approach to GVROs.

“We’re completely against the way gun violence restraining orders have been used against Californians,” said Michael Schwartz, the executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners.

Schwartz said unless a GVRO is followed by a criminal conviction, it’s not enough to take away someone’s gun.

“If you’ve been accused and there’s been a temporary restraining order, then really not enough evidence, if any evidence, has truly been presented to a court of law," he said.

Read more: San Diego leads state in Gun Violence Restraining Order use

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in June. The judges ruling could have a major impact on San Diego, and how the city moves forward in domestic violence cases.

“I wouldn’t feel safe," Aguayo said. "They're putting a lot of innocent lives at risk."