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Advocates angered by delay in passing Karina's Bill

A black rod iron fence is adorned with dolls, signs and flowers while candles and more flowers are laid on the ground.
Owen Ziliak
Chicago Sun-Times
A memorial outside the home in Chicago's Little Village where Karina Gonzalez and her daughter were shot to death, allegedly by her husband.

The legislation is aimed at taking guns from those accused of domestic violence.

Advocates had high hopes the General Assembly would pass a bill this week making it easier to get guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic violence.

But late Tuesday, the Senate president released a statement saying there likely would be no action on “Karina’s Bill,” named after Karina Gonzalez who was shot to death in her Little Village home allegedly by her husband despite an order of protection.

A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon said several issues with the bill, including questions of enforcement, had not been resolved in time to act on the measure during the veto session.

“Upon reviewing the proposal, there were significant underlying problems,” John Patterson told the Sun-Times. “Senate President Harmon looks forward to continuing to work with ... advocates to position an effective Karina’s Law for approval in the spring.”

Advocates reacted angrily to the delay and said it could cost lives.

“There’s no excuse for their lack of action or inactivity,” said Amanda Pyron of the Network, a coalition of advocacy groups for victims of domestic violence. “There’s no reason that they couldn’t call this bill and save additional lives in Illinois, and they simply chose not to.”

RELATED: Fatal shooting of Karina Gonzalez once again highlights difficulty of seizing guns from spouse accused of abuse

State Rep. Maura Hirschauer, the lead sponsor of the bill when it passed the House, was also puzzled and discouraged.

“Advocates have been working on this issue for years,” Hirschauer told the Sun-Times. “ We worked really hard to pass it out of the House in the spring, and as it sat in the Senate, Karina Gonzalez and her daughter died.

“There are real consequences to our actions here in Springfield,” she said.

The bill would require law enforcement to remove firearms when serving an emergency order of protection. It would also clarify language allowing judges to issue a search warrant when ordering the removal of a gun in such cases.

Currently, an order of protection revokes a person’s firearm owner’s identification card, and survivors can request a firearm be removed. But Pyron and other advocates have said enforcement is inconsistent in Illinois and “often inadequate.”

The bill aims to strengthen the current law by requiring judges to issue a gun seizure order along with an order of protection, and mandating law enforcement serve the order and seize the weapon within 48 hours.

“It’s a common sense piece of legislation,” Pryon said. “It’s a tiny technical fix, and it’s something that really should have been a no-brainer. And instead we have just been met with a stonewall.”

An adult woman takes a selfie with two children, all are smiling lightly
Karina Gonzalez, Daniela Alvarez, Jesus Emmanuel Alvarez

Prosecutors say Karina Gonzalez and her teenage daughter were shot to death in their Little Village home by her husband, who had been ordered to stay away from her.

Two weeks before the fatal shooting, Gonzalez went to court and was granted an order of protection against her husband, Jose Alvarez — citing his drinking, drug use and threats. The order automatically revoked his FOID card and banned him from the family home.

But on July 3, Alvarez was still in their home and still had his Glock 9mm when he fatally shot his wife and 15-year-old daughter and wounded his 18-year-old son, according to prosecutors.

State Sen. Celina Villanueva, a lead sponsor of the bill, acknowledged last month there was still work to be done on the issue of enforcement and implementation.

“I don’t think that anyone around the table thinks that this shouldn’t happen,” Villanueva told the Sun-Times. “There is a push at least on the Senate side to try to bring different stakeholders together to address the concerns that people might have in terms of implementation.

“How are we going to make sure that this gets done, the accountability for it, the capacity of law enforcement,” she said. “Unfortunately, that does take time.”

The Illinois State Police have the primary responsibility to remove guns when protective orders are issued, but they heavily rely on local police and sheriff’s deputies to go to a home and seize a weapon.

As of July in Cook County alone, there were nearly 30,000 outstanding cases of people whose FOID cards had been revoked but who likely still had guns.

Advocates and legislative sponsors agree time is of the essence when domestic violence is involved. A gun in the home increases the risk of homicide by 500%, according to a report from the Network.

“It’s not an over-exaggeration to say it is life and death, the intersection of firearms and domestic violence,” Hirschauer said. ”We need to clarify it for judges and law enforcement to keep people safe.”

Advocates believe the issue has become even more pressing as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on a federal law that prohibits the possession of firearms by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in that case Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Karina’s Bill would ensure Illinois residents had protections in place even if the federal law were to be overturned, advocates argue.

“Illinois could be a leader and lead in survivor safety in the same way that we’ve led in reproductive justice, and we’re choosing not to when there’s support for the vote,” Pyron said. “It’s just enormously frustrating.”

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