DeKalb County police Officer Phillips sits in his vehicle Thursday at the perimeter of the scene of a shooting that killed a woman and wounded an officer on Hodgdon Corners Cove in Lithonia. Police arrived at a home for a domestic call when they were immediately fired upon, DeKalb police Maj. Jerry Lewis said. The suspect, 27-year-old Otis Walker, remains at large and is considered to be armed and dangerous. DeKalb police have offered up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of Walker. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Killing renews debate on bill to ban gun ownership by domestic abusers

A domestic violence shooting that left a woman dead and a police officer injured in DeKalb County on Thursday revived debate around a bill that stalled in the General Assembly this year that aims to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of family violence.

Police accused Otis Walker of killing his girlfriend, 27-year-old Aleka Simmons, and ambushing a police officer in the Stonecrest area earlier in the day. Police said the officer, Derek Nunn, had surgery to his leg and was recovering at a hospital.

Since 2015, Walker has been arrested multiple times on charges ranging from aggravated assault to battery, DeKalb County Superior Court records show. Still, it’s unclear whether the proposed legislation would have kept a gun out of Walker’s hands.

Senate Bill 150, which made it out of a committee but never got to the Senate floor, would have made it illegal for anyone convicted of misdemeanor family violence or under a “family violence protective order” to own a gun. Felons already are banned from owning the weapons, but they are rarely prosecuted, experts said.

Walker, 27, was released from jail July 13 after a July 11 arrest on a family violence charge, according to records. He has an arraignment hearing scheduled for Oct. 8 in connection with that incident. It was unclear whether a judge issued a temporary restraining order in connection with the charge.

In a separate incident, Walker pleaded guilty to battery charges in January stemming from a 2018 incident for which he initially was charged with family violence. A judge sentenced him to two years of probation and forbade him from having “violent contact” with the victim in that case — a woman who was not Simmons.

Proponents of the stalled legislation said Thursday’s shooting proved why the bill is needed.

“This is why we have to keep fighting to keep firearms out of the hands of (domestic violence) offenders,” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said on Twitter, tagging the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jen Jordan. “Protecting victims and law enforcement has to be our top priority.”

Since 2019 is the first of a two-year legislative session, the bill can still be considered when lawmakers return in January.

Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat, said it’s time for lawmakers to act to save the lives of those who are victims of partner violence.

“Most of the officer-involved shootings seen across the state — especially the ones that turn deadly — involve a domestic violence dispute and documented history of domestic abuse,” Jordan said.

Once the legislation made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year, gun lobbying groups pushed back, saying more laws won’t stop killers from killing.

Georgia Gun Owners Executive Director Patrick Parsons said anyone using Thursday’s shooting to “advance a radical, personal agenda should be ashamed of themselves.”

“The idea that this killer and career criminal would’ve been stopped by another law passed by politicians is preposterous,” he said. “This guy is a killer, and it’s high time the Georgia General Assembly get their heads out of their butts on this and start passing pro-gun bills that make criminals terrified again.”

Parsons said instead, the Legislature should pass measures to allow anyone who is legally allowed to carry a handgun to do so without having to get a license.

Jordan said lawmakers instead need to push back against their fear of being targeted at election time by the gun lobby and pass “commonsense public policy.”

“They (lawmakers) are shirking the most important duty they have to constituents and to the state,” she said, “and it absolutely is not OK.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.

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