These gun laws may curb intimate partner homicides

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State laws that restrict gun ownership for domestic abusers and other violent offenders appear to significantly reduce intimate partner homicides, according to a new study.

The findings, which come on the heels of the Texas church massacre by a man with a history of domestic violence, suggest state laws with broader gun restrictions are more effective at preventing homicides among romantic partners—even when the laws don’t exclusively target domestic abuse.

Currently, 13 states and federal law prohibit gun purchases by individuals convicted of domestic violence. States that extend this ban to people convicted of any violent misdemeanor have 23 percent fewer intimate partner homicides, the study finds.

When gun-restriction laws included dating partners (not just spouses or ex-spouses) and a requirement that abusers surrender their firearms, reductions in domestic partner homicides were also more pronounced.

Broader gun-restriction laws could potentially save the lives of hundreds of domestic violence victims every year, says April Zeoli, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. According to the FBI, of the 1,352 intimate partner homicides in 2015, 55 percent were committed using a gun.

“The evidence from this study and previous research highly suggests that firearm restrictions work to reduce intimate partner homicides and that laws need to be comprehensive when we think about populations most at risk for committing intimate partner violence,”says Zeoli.

“Expanding restrictions from those who have been convicted of domestic violence to those who have been convicted of any violent misdemeanor, and including dating partners in domestic violence firearm laws, would likely result in even greater reductions,” she says.

The researchers studied at the effects of firearm restrictions on intimate partner homicides in the 45 states with available data over a 34-year period, 1980 to 2013.

Permissive gun laws linked to higher homicide rates

Twenty-nine states had laws restricting firearms in domestic violence cases when a restraining order had been issued. These laws were linked to a 9 percent reduction in intimate partner homicides, reinforcing past research with strikingly similar findings, Zeoli says.

Researchers also examined other state laws that restrict gun access. Among the findings:

  • Restraining orders for dating partners that include firearm restrictions (present in 22 states) were linked to a 10 percent decrease in romantic partner homicides and a 14 percent reduction in partner homicides committed with firearms. Dating partner statutes go beyond traditional domestic violence restraining order laws, which cover spouses, ex-spouses, couples that live together or have lived together, and couples that have children together. Nearly half of intimate partner homicides are committed by dating partners who often aren’t covered by these traditional partner categories in firearm-restriction laws.
  • Gun restrictions that cover emergency restraining orders in domestic violence cases were associated with a 12 percent reduction in intimate partner homicides.
  • Permit-to-purchase laws were linked to a 11 percent reduction in intimate partner homicides. These laws, active in 10 states including Michigan and New York, require a permit from a law enforcement agency—and thus a criminal background check—to purchase a firearm. (While federal law requires a criminal background check to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, most states allow the purchase of firearms from private sellers without a background check. Other states mandate background checks for all gun sales, but don’t require a permit or interaction with law enforcement.)
  • Laws requiring individuals with domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish firearms were associated with a 22 percent reduction in firearm intimate partner homicide.

The man who authorities say fatally shot 26 people at a Texas church had been court-martialed in the Air Force after pleading guilty to domestic abuse. The Air Force is investigating how it failed to report the information that would have blocked the shooter from buying the rifle he used in the attack from a store in San Antonio.

But even if the information had been submitted and the shooter had flunked his background check, he still could have bought guns through unregulated private sale in Texas or most other states.

Zeoli says the mounting scientific research on the issue clearly indicates that broader gun restrictions may be one answer to curbing homicides by intimate partners.

Program keeps more men from repeat domestic violence

“Our findings are consistent with prior research, supporting the claim that prohibiting domestic violence abusers from having firearms saves lives,” Zeoli says.

“This new evidence suggests that laws that disarm the largest number of people with histories of violence, require permits for handgun purchasers, and require relinquishment of firearms for those who are prohibited from having them are effective in reducing domestic homicides,” she says.

The researchers report their findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Alexander McCourt, Shani Buggs, Shannon Frattaroli, and Daniel Webster, all from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and David Lilley from the University of Toledo are coauthors. The Joyce Foundation funded the work.

Source: Michigan State University