ISSUE ADVISORY: Gun Control – Part One: The Link between Gun Violence and Domestic Violence

February 14, 2019

This is Part One of a three-part Issue Advisory on Gun Control and Domestic Violence. Part Two will address the constitutionality of the second amendment, the Supreme Court, and state laws. Part Three will discuss limitations to gun control action, like the NRA’s involvement in politics, the Trump Administration’s proposed changes, and common myths about mass shooters.

On the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the six-month anniversaries of the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California, the same questions continue to be asked. What was the state of the shooter’s mind at the time? What could have brought them to do something like this? And, always at the center of it, “What could we have done?”

SUMMARY

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the response from lawmakers and the media follows a painfully predictable pattern. There is widespread outcry and promises of change, but a few weeks later the story dies down and nothing ever seems to happen. For the past two years, Democratic lawmakers could blame the inaction on their minority in both the House and the Senate. Now, Democrats hold the majority in the House and the party is coming off a “Blue Wave” in the 2018 midterm elections. The American people have endured far too many gun-related tragedies and the number of casualties from gun violence grows each day. We demand change now.

Although many of the largest and most-discussed mass shootings have taken place in schools, the necessity of gun reform is highly apparent outside the context of schools and students. Concerns about gun violence and easy access to guns are extremely important in cases of domestic violence. According to gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, 54 percent of mass shootings were related to domestic or family violence. Though the Lautenberg Amendment prohibits the possession of firearms and ammunition for those convicted under a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence, several loopholes regarding the relationship between perpetrator and victim exist. Thirty-six states lack confiscation policies. These issues, among many others, make the Amendment’s intent – to protect survivors and others at risk of domestic violence – difficult to uphold in practice.

It is crucial to consider the links between domestic violence and gun violence. Despite the existence of the Lautenberg amendment and other laws attempting to prevent individuals with violent pasts from owning guns, in 34% of mass shootings (between January 2009 and December 2016), the shooter was prohibited from owning firearms at the time of the shooting, including perpetrators of domestic violence. Often, perpetrators of domestic violence are easily able to obtain a gun by purchasing at gun shows or from private dealers who are not required to conduct background checks, unlike licensed dealers who are often required by law to conduct background checks. Laws to protect children from firearms in the home are severely lacking at the federal level and leave millions of children vulnerable to accidental gun deaths as well.

State gun laws and regulations face an additional problem of great disparity. Florida’s gun laws have been the subject of scrutiny since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, both in relation to the shooting itself as well as the lasting presence of Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Florida lobbyist and former president, who has, via political maneuvering, destroyed the possibility of stricter gun regulations in Florida. On the other hand, states like California, Massachusetts and Maryland, have taken the clear need for greater gun regulations into account by strengthening and extending regulations relative to other states, making it more difficult for civilians to obtain lawful access to guns.

At the federal level, the guidance sent out by the Trump administration in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting contains provisions that do not bode well for the education system, most especially as relate to the treatment of African-Americans and other people of color. Increased mental health screenings also add to the misconstruction of the psychological profile of mass shooters. People suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators and the dismissal of all mass shooters as mentally ill contributes to a harmful stigma. Suicide also needs to be considered when crafting policy as studies show that restricting gun access will have tangible effects in lowering gun death.

Policies for gun control must be based on and allow for research of what does and does not work. If we want to tackle the multifaceted issue of gun death, understanding the differences within the problem and centering effective, non-biased solutions is the only way to prevent tragedies like the Parkland Shooting.

GUNS PLAY A LARGE ROLE IN INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE

Domestic Violence Is an Area of Grave Concern

Research by the Violence Policy Center on women killed in homicides indicate that in 2015, more homicides of women were committed using firearms (55%) than with any other type of weapon, in cases where a murder weapon could be identified. According to researchers Rebecca A. Schut and Susan B. Sorenson, 4.5 million American women report that they have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. Women are five times more likely to be killed when a gun is present in an intimate violence situation, as reported by EveryTown. Numerically, a total of 1,686 homicides of women by men were recorded in 2015, and around 837 of these deaths were proven to be gun-related.

Gun Laws Do Not Protect Domestic Violence Survivors

Several federal loopholes exist with regards to domestic violence. Though the Lautenberg Amendment, enacted in 1996, prohibits those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from possessing firearms or ammunition, various loopholes have allowed abusers to continue to have access to these weapons. Most prominent amongst these is the “Boyfriend/Girlfriend loophole”, wherein persons who were or are in an intimate relationship with their victim are not bound by the provisions of the Amendment, allowing them to keep their firearms. Other notable instances in which the Amendment does not apply are if the abuser and their target dated but never cohabited and if the abuser has a misdemeanor stalking charge.

Though stalking may seem a disparate issue from that of domestic violence, it has been found that the two often go hand in hand. The most common relationship between a stalker and their target is a current or former intimate relationship. Prior research on the subject has additionally found that 76% of women killed by their intimate partners and 85% of women who survived an attempt made on their life were stalked prior to their deaths. For these reasons, the lack of a gun ban related to those convicted of misdemeanor stalking poses serious implications.

Another important loophole in the Amendment concerns cohabitation. Under the guidelines of the Amendment, one of the instances besides marriage or a relationship “similarly situated” to that of a spouse in which firearms may be prohibited is if the abuser has lived with their target either previously or currently. While this would encompass partners living with each other, not all dating relationships involve cohabitation, and as such, dating partners who have not cohabited with their victims are let off the hook.

In addition to the Boyfriend/Girlfriend, stalking, and cohabitation loopholes, there is an issue at the federal level and in most states on the actual confiscation of firearms and ammunition. Currently, only fourteen states have mandated confiscation policies for domestic abusers. The Lautenberg Amendment itself, while providing a ban on firearms and ammunition, never actually states a concrete means by which such a ban would be enforced, and thus there is no national confiscation policy. As 16% of all firearms transfer denials by the National Instant Criminal Background Check are due to prior domestic violence convictions, we clearly cannot expect domestic violence convicts to resign themselves to the consequences of the ban in good faith. In this manner, we understand there to be multiple loopholes with regards to firearms in relation to domestic abuse in federal law, and must be prepared to research and support legislation proposing the closure of these loopholes.

Mass Shooters Have History of Violence Against Women

In addition to the clear ties between domestic violence and gun abuse, most mass shooters have one trait in common: a history of violence against women. This ties in to the domestic violence link, because often these shooters are targeting an intimate partner. In other instances, they may be targeting a woman who rejected their “romantic advances,” such as the case with the 2014 Isla Vista killings. Between 2009 and 2017, in 54% of mass shooting, the perpetrator shot an intimate partner or family member. Because the majority (~96%) of mass shooters happen to be men, this often amounts to women being the target.

The Annapolis Capital Gazette shooter had a history of threatening a former female classmate. The Marjory Stoneham Douglas shooter was known to be abusive towards his ex-girlfriend, and threatened and stalked other female classmates. The Thousand Oaks gunman was accused of sexual assault in high school. The Texas Church shooter was convicted of domestic violence against his wife. The Las Vegas shooter was often verbally abusive to his girlfriend in public. The Pulse nightclub shooter was known to beat his wife. The Congressional baseball practice shooter had a history of domestic violence. The list goes on, but the story remains the same.

CHILDREN ARE MOST VULNERABLE TO GUN-RELATED DEATHS

After the devastating Sandy Hook shooting which resulted in the death of twenty young children, the vulnerability of children to gun deaths was displayed for all of America. Since then thousands more children have died from guns not in public mass shootings, but in their own homes. In 2015, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute found almost three thousand children died of gunshot wounds that year. This high rate of child death by gunshot has been related to increased gun availability.

Gun ownership is a staple of American culture and protected under the constitution. Even with the tightest gun control laws, it would be impossible to remove all guns from American homes. Thus, an effective measure to prevent child deaths from guns is to demand proper storage and security for guns in the home. A 2015 Harvard Injury Control Research Center survey indicates that 21% of gun-owning households have at least one gun that is stored loaded and unlocked. This translates to around 4.6 million US children living in homes with unsafe gun storage.

Child-access prevention laws (CAP) look to prosecute adults who neglect proper gun storage. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that impose liability for neglectful storage of guns. Seven states have assign liability for negligent storage if children publicly carry or use guns. There are no federal level CAP laws, so these regulations vary from state to state. Half of all states do not have any CAP laws. Studies have shown that CAP laws do lower unintentional deaths when compared to states without them. We must fight for children to be both safe in schools and in the home. Proper storage, child proof locks, and CAP laws are simple steps that can ensure child safety and must be included in discussions of effective gun control.

TO BE CONTINUED, WITH PARTS TWO AND THREE.

NOW Government Relations Interns Elena Mieszczanski, Cara Schiavone and Rebecca Amadicontributed in the research and writing of this series.