NRA opposition forces New Orleans lawmaker to gut anti-domestic violence bill

Phillip Gouaux introduced himself as a council member from Lafourche Parish April 29 before delivering stunning testimony — in a few short breaths — to a panel of lawmakers at the Louisiana State Capitol.

“I’ll bring you back about 16 months ago. At that time, my ex-son-in-law, who is remarried, drowned his wife — his current wife. Came to my house, shot me, killed my wife,” he paused, touched his mustache and muttered, “Excuse me,” before starting again. “And proceeded to shoot one of my daughters.”

The House’s Administration of Criminal Justice Committee was hearing a bill aimed at strengthening laws to protect victims of domestic violence. Among the provisions were enhanced penalties for strangulation, enhanced penalties for violations of protective orders and an expansion of the type of offenders who qualify to be charged with domestic abuse battery.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, is a product of the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission. The group was born out of a resolution from last year’s legislative session for the purpose of recommending new legislation to curb domestic violence. It is comprised of judges, prosecutors, district attorneys, social workers, law enforcement and others.

But because of the influence on lawmakers of gun lobby groups, like the National Rifle Association, who oppose the bill, Moreno said there’s no chance some of the more impactful provisions will pass.

“I can’t beat the NRA on this one,” Moreno said Wednesday (May 6).

Gouaux’s story made national headlines in December 2013. His ex-son-in-law, Ben Freeman, 38 at the time, had also killed two others, including the CEO of the hospital where he worked, and had wounded a third person during rampage that stretched across two parishes.

About a month before the incident, Freeman strangled his then wife. A restraining order followed. A year-and-a-half before the rampage, Freeman was charged with a misdemeanor for stalking Gouaux’s daughter, the one to whom he was once married. He was sentenced to anger management and received no recourse when he failed to attend the classes, Gouaux said. “The courts truly failed us.”

About a half dozen other people testified about abuse they took or close encounters with abusers that were immediately preceded by stalking. Some in the audience wiped tears.

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