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Illinois fails to pass Karina’s Bill aimed at protecting domestic violence victims

Zubaer Khan
Chicago Sun-Times
Monica Alvarez, Karina Gonzalez’s Cousin, speaks at a press conference encouraging support for Karina’s Bill in January 2024 at the Illinois capitol in Springfield, Ill. Karina’s Bill would require a firearm to be removed from a home when a survivor is granted an order of protection with the firearm remedy from a judge. Lawmakers ended their legislative session without passing the legislation.

A couple months ago, Monica Alvarez traveled from Chicago to Springfield.

She was joined by dozens of advocates with various gun violence prevention groups. Alvarez was there to push for Karina’s Bill. At a rally outside of the Capitol building, she said being there was both painful and heartbreaking.

“But I stand here today because my cousin Karina and Daniela were murdered on July 3 2023,” Alvarez said.

Karina Gonzalez and her 15-year-old daughter, Daniela, were shot and killed in their Little Village home – allegedly by Karina’s husband. The court had ordered her husband to stay away from Karina and her family, citing drug use and threatening behavior. And while his Firearm Owners I-D card was confiscated, his firearms were not.

“And it wasn’t enough, an order of protection was not enough,” Alvarez said. “I urge lawmakers, law enforcement agencies and community leaders to reassess and strengthen our domestic violence laws.”

The lawmakers, however, wrapped up their legislative session last month once again without passing Karina’s Bill, or even calling it for a full vote on the Senate floor. The measure would have required judges to order the confiscation of guns from people who have emergency restraining orders against them.

Despite a coalition of more than 40 advocacy groups leading the charge for this bill on the grassroots level, and buy-in from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the bill failed to pass for the third time, leaving advocates “disappointed” and forced to once again look forward to the next legislative session.

‘We’re on the same side on this’

The murders took place just a few blocks from Democratic state Senator Celina Villanueva’s district office in Chicago. She soon became the chief Senate sponsor ofKarina’s Bill.

“We’ve seen stories [like this] continuously,” Villaneuva said. “And with each and every one of those stories, like my heart hurts.”

She said part of the hold up is acasebefore The U.S. Supreme Court that’s considering whether forbidding someone who is under domestic-violence restraining orders from possessing firearms violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Villanueva said they are watching and waiting to see how the court rules.

The other issue, she said, is concerns from law enforcement groups, like the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

John Millner, the group’s director of government relations, said their main concern is capacity.

The bill’s requirement that officers only have four days after a protective order is issued to remove the guns is too burdensome for smaller departments in rural areas, he said.

Millner said it’s best practice to have at least four officers execute the search, which may be difficult for smaller departments within a four day window. And, he said, there’s the question of where smaller precincts will store confiscated weapons.

“Law enforcement understands the exigent circumstances, but you can’t just run full speed ahead, like a bull in a china shop, and just crash into things as you get to your destination,” Millner said. “We have to make sure it’s done safely, not just for the police officers, but for the victims of those crimes, as well as the neighborhood.”

However, Millner said their concerns could easily be addressed and, overall, police chiefs like the legislation and what it aims to accomplish.

“We’re on the same side on this,” he said. “We want to do what we can to prevent any more domestic violence situations from occurring. And if we can find some common ground and make this work, let’s do it.”

Anthony Vazquez
Chicago Sun-Times
From left to right, Maralea Negron, Director of policy, advocacy, and research at the The Network, Manny Alvarez, Karina Gonzalez’s son, and State Senator Celina Villanueva take a photo after a press conference in support of Karina’s Bill in 2023. The legislation, which would strengthen state law to protect domestic violence survivors from firearms, was not called for a vote in the just-completed legislative session.

Advocates say time is of the essence

The problem, Millner said, is that so far he’s been invited to just one roundtable meeting with lawmakers, police groups and bill advocates to hammer out the details.

Villanueva defended the infrequency of meetings as a byproduct of tight schedules and competing priorities at the statehouse.

“I mean, like, my schedule is also all over the place,” Villanueva said.

But advocates for domestic violence survivors and gun control policies said time is of the essence. After the legislative session ended, Yolanda Androzzo, director of One Aim Illinois, released a statement saying her group was “deeply saddened by the Illinois legislature’s failure to pass Karina’s Bill.”

“The data doesn’t lie - the risk of intimate partner homicide increases…with the presence of a firearm. Yet, the Illinois Legislature won’t stand up to protect these survivors,” Androzzo said in the statement.

Maralea Negron, director of policy and research for The Network, an umbrella group of more than 40 domestic violence survivor groups, said deaths from domestic violence shootings in Illinois are on the rise. According to data from nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive victim deaths increased by 30 percent between 2021 and 2022. Negron said they expect an upward trend in 2024.

“The intersection of firearms and domestic violence is well known to be high lethality and high risk,” Negron said.

Negron stood beside Monica and Manny Alvarez, Karina’s son who survived the shooting, at the rally in Springfield in April. Since Karina and Daniela’s murders, there have been a number of domestic violence-related shootings around the Chicago area, including one in Villa Park.

Negron said her group is willing to do the work to get Karina’s Bill across the finish line during the fall legislative session.

“It has been disappointing working on this to see all of the momentum and all of the coalition of support that we received for…the bill not to move forward,” Negron said.

Mawa Iqbal is a statehouse reporter, covering the Illinois legislature for WBEZ and Illinois Public Radio.