Maine Cooks Up Improvements to Firearm Relinquishment

A pinch of serendipity, several cups of collaboration, and a dash of ingenuity were the ingredients that cooked up significant system change and improved safety for domestic violence victims in Maine.

The Maine judicial branch was in the process of transitioning to an electronic filing system, and part of that transition involved a comprehensive review of all court forms.

The Family Division of the Maine judicial branch reviewed the protection order forms and saw an opportunity for improvement in the handling of protective orders. At the same time, the Maine Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse was working toward identifying and closing gaps around firearm relinquishment following the issuance of a protective order, a long-standing recommendation of Maine’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, a committee of the Commission. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence had proposed that the Commission establish a multi-disciplinary work group to take on the project and provided staff support to provide both content expertise and convene the group. With both projects seeking process improvements to enhance compliance with the courts’ relinquishment orders, a collaborative statewide firearm relinquishment working group was formed that included representatives from law enforcement, prosecution, dispatch, advocacy, the courts and others. The ingenuity of this collaborative effort created new forms and protocol to close several identified gaps in firearm relinquishment.

First, the working group addressed a delay in the service of protection orders.

Prior to the enactment of these process improvements, protective orders, once granted by the court, were delivered to law enforcement for service either by mail or in person by the petitioner seeking the protective order. This procedure resulted in delay in getting protective orders served, exposed petitioners to unnecessary risk, and was unduly burdensome to the petitioners. As part of the protocol changes made, the court granting a protection order now identifies the agency responsible for coordinating service and weapons relinquishment. Following the hearing, court clerks call dispatch for the identified coordinating law enforcement agency and upload the necessary documents to an interface with law enforcement so the documents can be accessed electronically. This process that before could take days, now takes minutes.

An additional gap addressed by the working group was one of communication.

The working group sought to close the communication loop so the court ordering relinquishment and the petitioner requesting the protective order would know whether weapons were relinquished to law enforcement. A notice of relinquishment of weapons form was created to be completed by law enforcement upon service of the order or taking possession of the weapons. Once completed, this form is then sent to the court. The court sends copies of the completed notice of firearm relinquishment, along with an informational sheet that explains what to do if not all firearms have been relinquished or the notice is inaccurate to both the petitioner and the respondent in protective order cases. 2 The firearm working group plans to collect and analyze data on the new protocol and forms to ensure they are being used and having the desired outcome. Now in its third year, the working group doesn’t intend to stop there and will continue to collaborate to close other identified gaps. The recipe that created successful system change in Maine can be replicated and tweaked by other communities to cook up surrender success in other places.