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"273.D." The dispatch code for domestic violence sends chills down the spines of law enforcement officers, who know the calls to be among the most dangerous of all. Early on the morning of Feb. 18, police and first responders in Burnsville saw just how deadly domestic abuse incidents can be. Although they saved seven children and the killer's girlfriend from harm, two officers and a firefighter lost their lives.

This tragedy should have been avoidable. Federal laws as well as statutes in every state prohibit domestic abusers from having access to guns. The perpetrator of the triple homicide in Burnsville was one such offender. After being convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, he was barred from possessing firearms. Yet in the Feb. 18 shooting, he fired hundreds of rounds from multiple guns.

Far too often, failures in the implementation of laws that seek to disarm abusers leave guns in their hands. In 2022, a Colorado man who was required to surrender his guns because of a restraining order shot and killed four. Before that, an Ohio man who was prohibited from owning guns killed his 2½-year-old son and shot his wife.

For more than a year, we have investigated how domestic abusers hold onto guns in Minnesota despite being barred from possessing them, and the vital questions that follow: What can be done to make the laws requiring abusers to surrender their firearms more effective? How can we save lives in a country where domestic violence abusers pose grave danger — not just to their families, but to the public and to law enforcement — and have easy access to firearms due to gaps in gun laws?

What we found surprised us. Despite the admirable aim of laws like Minnesota's, which require abusers and those subject to restraining orders to surrender their firearms, they are routinely ignored because of a range of obstacles. And reforms to address these challenges would protect law enforcement officers from one of their jobs' biggest risks.

Some major obstacles to the laws' efficacy are written into the statutes themselves. Minnesota's, for example, do not make clear who is responsible for enforcing them, leaving stakeholders unsure about their roles. Because the laws do not require police departments to accept firearms from abusers, departments have turned away offenders who bring their weapons to their local precinct. Minnesota's laws also do not authorize police to seize weapons in many cases, even when abusers retained their guns in violation of the statute.

Other challenges stem from information vacuums. Often lacking strong evidence about whether an offender possesses guns, courts regularly rely on abusers' self-reports. Thus, abusers determined to keep their firearms may succeed simply by claiming that they do not have any.

Plea deals also create life-threatening gaps. Abusers charged with an offense that requires them to give up their weapons may reach agreements in which they plead to lesser crimes that do not obligate them to surrender guns. These deals leave guns in the hands of people who are five times more likely to murder their partners when they can access a gun.

How can we make domestic violence gun surrender laws as powerful as they need to be? Our research highlighted key possibilities.

Stronger laws offer one avenue. Requiring police departments to accept surrendered firearms is a straightforward fix. Another involves clarifying the enforcement process in the laws themselves. When local and regional law enforcers better understand their roles, as a task force in King County, Washington, demonstrated, they can markedly improve abusers' compliance. Mandating compliance hearings after courts order domestic abusers to surrender firearms can further ensure that abusers have surrendered their weapons after the initial order.

Education is an essential tool as well. Teaching prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement, probation and parole officers about their roles in ensuring abusers surrender their weapons would address deadly oversights and increase stakeholders' commitment to the laws.

Other fixes are as simple as creating better judicial forms. Judges sometimes fail to issue orders requiring abusers to surrender their guns simply because the courts are unaware that the offenders possess firearms. Adding a field to petitions for restraining orders that asks whether the alleged abuser has access to guns would largely solve this problem.

Reforms like these would better protect everyone, including law enforcement. As one of our interviews with a domestic violence researcher revealed, police are most at risk in the domestic violence context when responding to active incidents in which an abuser is armed. The risk drops markedly when officers seize firearms during interactions in which emotions are not raging. Better laws and stronger implementation of them would facilitate proactive enforcement, compelling abusers to surrender their weapons or allowing police to seize them before a crisis leads to tragedy.

Megan Walsh is the director of the University of Minnesota Law School's Gun Violence Prevention Clinic, where David Lamb serves as the student director leading the domestic violence prevention team.