Twelve days before Karina González and her 15-year-old daughter were fatally shot — allegedly by her husband — on July 3, she submitted an order of protection against him that could have removed the weapon that police say ended their lives.
These orders are meant to protect survivors and potential victims of intimate partner violence. But domestic and gun violence prevention advocates say the system for collecting firearms from people deemed dangerous is flawed, leading to tragedies like Karina’s. While local law enforcement officers must present the order, they do not have the authority to search their subjects’ property and seize their weapons. People facing orders of protection are expected to surrender their firearms to police or transfer them to someone with a valid firearms owners identification card. There is no timeline for how quickly that must be done.
“They did not protect her,” Alicia Acevedo, a Chicago-based activist who was supporting González, said in Spanish, referring to the officers who didn’t remove González’s husband’s firearm. González’s husband was charged with murder, among other charges. His case is still pending. Acevedo works with Almas Nuevas, a group that helps survivors of domestic violence. In Illinois, according to a report by the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, almost half of the 57 domestic violence related deaths in 2022 were caused by a firearm.
Illinois legislators are working to fix the ambiguity in executing orders of protection, with González’s story at the center of the effort. Democratic Illinois state Representative Maura Hirschauer is leading the introduction of Karina’s Bill, a measure that would clarify language in the state’s Domestic Violence Act. The law would require judges to approve a search-and-seizure warrant when they submit an order of protection that prohibits firearm possession. It would also require law enforcement to carry out the order within 48 hours. Legislators expect to bring the bill to the floor at the end of October, during the General Assembly’s fall veto session.
The bill’s supporters say it’s critical to remove weapons from these situations quickly. In domestic violence cases, according to a report by The Network, a gender-based violence awareness advocacy group, the presence of a gun in a residence increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.
“This is a dangerous loophole that needs to be closed,” Hirschauer said. “It will most definitely keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, which is something we all can agree on, across the political spectrum.”
The attempt to improve Illinois’ domestic-violence gun restrictions comes as the nation’s courts are debating whether to expand the rights alleged abusers have to own firearms. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen created a new framework for deciding Second Amendment cases. Based on the court’s decision last year, in order for a gun law to be constitutional, it must have a well-established analogue in U.S. history.
Although federal law has prohibited gun possession by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence since 1996, this type of violence wasn’t recognized as a crime before the 20th century. In February, Fifth Circuit Court judges presiding over U.S. v. Rahimi used this reasoning to overturn the ban in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In November, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal to that ruling in a case that will determine if other states can also overrule the ban.
A Johns Hopkins National Survey of Gun policy this year found that 81 percent of Americans support prohibiting a person with a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun. It’s against that backdrop that Illinois legislators are trying to pass Karina’s Bill.
González was 48 when she was killed. Originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, she came to the U.S. at 24 after she graduated with a degree in fashion design, according to her obituary. Acevedo and her group were working to help González leave her husband. On the day she was killed, Acevedo said she and her group had arranged for González to get a pedicure, manicure, and a haircut. “She wanted to make a change, and we wanted her to feel good, to realize she was important, to rid herself of that fear, to rid herself of that loneliness, and realize she could do it alone,” Acevedo said. “But it didn’t happen.”
On June 21, according to news reports, González filed and was granted an order of protection against her husband, José Álvarez. A day later, Chicago police came to the home because of a “domestic disturbance” call. They learned from the visit that Álvarez possessed a gun, but didn’t take action to remove it; it is unclear if the responding officers were aware of the order. On June 23, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department tried to serve the order of protection against Álvarez, but he wasn’t home. Because they didn’t have the authority to search and seize any firearms in his absence, they didn’t. Ten days later, Álvarez allegedly shot and killed González and their 15-year-old daughter, Daniela Álvarez, and wounded their 18-year-old son.
In Chicago, according to a report by The Network, the number of domestic violence-related shootings there doubled to over 120 incidents between 2019 and 2021.
Physical abuse isn’t the only indicator of a potential homicide, especially when guns are involved, said Maralea Negron, director of policy, advocacy, and research at The Network. “Just because someone has never laid hands on someone else, it doesn’t mean it isn’t an abusive relationship,” Negron said. “Abuse can be financial, it can be psychological, it can be emotional.”
In 2021, according to the advocacy group’s report, 63 percent of domestic violence homicides in Chicago were with a firearm. Compared to 2019, domestic homicides by firearm doubled to more than 25 deaths.
“Most of the time the respondent knows the victim has requested an order of protection, which makes it difficult because the person avoids being served at the address given on the order,” the Cook County Sheriff’s Department said in a written response to The Trace’s questions. Karina’s Bill would require law enforcement to remove firearms within 48 hours, even if the person receiving the order is not present.
The legislation would also require people facing orders to surrender their firearms to their local law enforcement agency and would prohibit them from transferring weapons to people with valid state Firearm Owners Identification cards (FOID).
When legislators first introduced these changes in an omnibus bill earlier this year, Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, suggested that people should have the chance to transfer firearms to a separate location and said that law enforcement departments don’t have enough storage space.
Negron said legislators have added language into the new, standalone bill that would allow law enforcement to store guns with federally licensed firearm dealers.
The new legislation also clarifies that people can submit an order of protection that removes firearms from current or former dating partners — not just spouses or co-parents. This change would help people like Jailene Flores, 21, who was fatally shot on July 13. Flores requested and was granted an order of protection against a man she filed a complaint against, but the order was never served.
“Sometimes it takes a tragedy like Karina’s case or Jailene’s case to bring attention to the intersection of what abuse with the combination of guns can turn into,” Negron said.
Democratic Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford said the state needs to focus on collecting guns from people who have been deemed unfit to carry. Ford said Illinois needs to perfect and fund existing gun laws.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Department stated it supported the initial version of Karina’s Bill and is working with legislators to iron out any new details. “These are very complex issues,” the department said in a written statement. “Having the resources and ability to enforce compliance immediately would no doubt save lives.”
When Acevedo first learned about the bill, she decided she wanted to do whatever she could to help it pass. “It fills me with emotion to know that many people’s lives will be saved,” she said, “and there won’t be another Karina.”