TRENTON — People who petition for extreme risk protection orders or are victims of alleged domestic violence incidents would have to be given a heads-up before seized or surrendered weapons are returned, under a bill advancing in the Legislature.

The bill, A-3687, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, would require the notification to be provided at least 10 days prior to the return of the weapons.

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“The unfortunate truth is that guns are disproportionately used against women in cases of domestic violence and so this legislation aims to fill in a gap in state law to keep victims of domestic violence protected,” Vainieri Huttle said.

Vainieri Huttle said national statistics show that on average, 53 women a month are shot and killed by intimate partners and that nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot or threatened. She said the bill was inspired by a case in Washington, D.C., in which a woman was killed by her partner after a gun had been returned to the home without her knowing following a domestic violence incident.

“Hopefully this bill obviously could be used to fill in those that state law now is keeping for victims of domestic violence, and we need to protect those victims,” said Vainieri Huttle, who was surprised in doing research after the Washington case that the advance notifications aren’t now required.

“I believe that as policymakers we must do everything to address the issue and keep them safe and make sure that they can safely, or victims can safely remove themselves from the situation,” she said.

The bill was endorsed in a 7-0 vote, with one vote to abstain, last week by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. Nobody testified at the hearing on the bill, either in support or opposition.

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When a person is charged with domestic violence, police can take possession of their weapons, which are then transferred to county prosecutors. If prosecutors don’t file for forfeiture within 45 days, they are returned. Weapons are also returned if charges are dropped, a defendant is found not guilty or a court determines the domestic violence situation no longer exists.

Under the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act enacted in 2018, people who are subject to an ERPO can petition a law enforcement agency to have their firearms and ammunition returned once the order is terminated.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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