4 policies we need to protect victims of domestic violence

4 policies we need to protect victims of domestic violence
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Most women who are killed in the United States are killed by a current or former intimate partner, and over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with guns. 

Despite what some may believe, guns do not make you safer. There are about 4.5 million women in America who have been threatened with a gun and nearly 1 million women who have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner. We also know that a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun.

In order to reduce domestic violence injuries and fatalities, each state must enhance and enforce its domestic violence and firearms laws. Below are four policies that states can adopt to save lives.

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1. Prohibit all people convicted of violent misdemeanors

People convicted of a violent misdemeanor should be prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns for at least ten years.

Research shows that people convicted of violent misdemeanors are at an increased risk of committing future violent crimes. Laws that prohibit access to people convicted of all violent misdemeanors can reduce intimate partner homicide. For example, one study found that such laws were associated with a 23 percent reduction in rates of intimate partner homicide. 

Often, before women are killed, they have had contact with law enforcement regarding violence in the home. A 2019 study found that, in the three years leading up to an intimate partner homicide, police were in contact with the female victims in 91 percent of the cases, with police visiting the victim on average of 5.6 times. The violence that precedes a domestic violence homicide is not always directed at an intimate partner. For this reason, prohibitions need to be broad, to include all people convicted of violent misdemeanors, not solely limited to those with domestic violence convictions.

2. Prohibit people subject to domestic violence protective orders

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People who are subject to all domestic violence protective orders, including temporary orders, should be prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns for the duration of the order.

Federal law and many states’ laws prohibit purchase and possession of firearms by those subject to final domestic violence protective orders — orders issued after someone has received notice and has been provided an opportunity to participate in a hearing. All states should prohibit purchase and possession of firearms by people subject to final domestic violence protective orders.

Temporary, or ex-parte, orders are often the first step in the domestic violence protective order process. These temporary emergency orders highlight the immediate danger domestic violence victims often face and the dangerous nature of initiating separation in abusive relationships. It is not uncommon to read stories of women killed after filing for a protective order. For example, in May 2019, a woman was fatally shot by the father of her child just one day after obtaining a protective order. In August 2017, a woman was shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend just 11 days after he was served with a protective order. Stories like these highlight the critical need to remove firearms from domestic abusers.

The temporary phase of a domestic violence protective order can be the most dangerous time for people seeking protection. In response to evidence that temporary protective orders are associated with increased risk of violence, a number of states prohibit firearm purchase and possession by respondents for temporary protection orders. All states and the federal government should follow suit by prohibiting people subject to temporary domestic violence protective orders from purchasing and possessing guns for the duration of the order. Doing so would provide protection to women during a time of heightened danger and vulnerability.

3. Close the boyfriend loophole

State and federal law should ensure that abusive dating partners, not just current or former spouses, are also prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. 

It is critical to close the boyfriend loophole, which allows abusive dating partners to purchase and possess firearms. Evidence shows that dating partners are actually more likely to abuse their partners than spouses, and allowing abusive dating partners to remain armed puts countless people in danger.

Federal law should be expanded to prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence committed against current or former dating partners and sexual partners, regardless of whether they live together or have children together. States should also pass mirroring laws to close the boyfriend loophole. 

4. Remove guns from domestic abusers

Guns should be temporarily removed from people at the scene of domestic violence incidents and from people who are subject to domestic violence protective orders of any kind for the duration of the order. Guns should also be removed from people who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns under state or federal law for the duration of the prohibition.

Since there is no federal law that requires guns to be removed from people who are prohibited from possessing them, states should create their own statutes to address this dangerous gap. 

Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and domestic violence advocates should work together to ensure effective removal of guns from domestic abusers, and to educate others on the importance of removing guns from domestic abusers. In states that do not explicitly require removal/retrieval of guns, there should be agreements to ensure that guns are removed/retrieved from people subject to domestic violence orders

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, it is important to bring attention to domestic violence perpetrated with guns. We know that there are evidence-based solutions to this problem. We implore states that do not have these protections to strengthen their domestic violence and firearms laws. And we commend states that do for their efforts to protect domestic violence victims and survivors throughout their state.

Lisa Geller is the policy analyst at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.