Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 20 — How critical is the presence of firearms and other weapons?

According to a CDC study, more female intimate partners are killed by firearms than by all other means combined. [176] Firearms in the household increase the odds of lethal versus nonlethal violence by a factor of 6.1 to 1. Women who were previously threatened or assaulted with a firearm or other weapon are 20 times more likely to be murdered by their abuser than are other women. [25, 142] Prior firearm use includes threats to shoot the victim; cleaning, holding, or loading a gun during an argument; threatening to shoot a pet or a person the victim cares about; and firing a gun during an argument. [17, 191]

A significant Massachusetts study of 31 men imprisoned for murdering their female partners (and willing to talk to researchers) found that almost two-thirds of the guns used by men who shot their partners were illegal because the suspect had a prior abuse assault conviction or a protective order was in effect at the time of the killing. [1]

Implications for Law Enforcement

One of the most crucial steps to prevent lethal violence is to disarm abusers and keep them disarmed. Departments should implement a program to identify firearms in abusers' possession, remove them as soon as legally permissible, and make sure the abuser remains disarmed. If police agencies are involved in firearm licensing, they should aggressively screen for domestic violence, even if it is not discovered initially by inquiries in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). (Research basis: Multiple studies — national, state and local — support this policy, as do state-by-state correlations between the existence of restrictive gun laws for batterers, state registries to enforce them and lower domestic homicide rates. [217])

Implications for Prosecutors

One of the most crucial steps to prevent lethal violence is to disarm abusers and keep them disarmed. Prosecutors should take all steps possible to have firearms removed by the court as soon as abusers are arrested and obtain guilty verdicts so that federal firearm prohibitions apply (18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9)). Victims should be advised to obtain protective orders, or the prosecutor should ask the court to order criminal no-contact orders against defendants so that federal firearm prohibitions apply (18 U.S.C. §922(g)(8)). Prosecutors should collaborate with the U.S. Attorney to refer appropriate firearms violators for federal prosecution, especially where federal penalties are more substantial than state penalties. (Research basis: Although multiple studies document the association between firearms and domestic violence homicides, only one study examined the association between each state's restrictive gun laws for batterers, state registries to enforce them and lower domestic homicide rates. [217])

Implications for Judges

One of the most crucial steps to prevent lethal violence is to disarm abusers and keep them disarmed. Judges should take all steps possible to have firearms prohibitions enforced and refuse to approve alternative sanctions that preclude federal firearm prohibitions (18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9)). Victims in criminal cases should be advised to obtain protective orders if firearms cannot be removed through the criminal process (18 U.S.C. §922(g)(8)), and vice versa. In 2007, in Weissenburger v. Iowa District Court for Warren County (No. 47/05-0279, filed October 26, 2007), the Iowa Supreme Court reminded judges they are legally obligated to enforce federal domestic-violence firearm prohibitions, notwithstanding contrary (or silent) state statutes. (Research basis: Multiple studies — national, state and local — support this policy, as do state-by-state correlations between the existence of restrictive gun laws for batterers, state registries to enforce them and lower domestic homicide rates. [217])

Date Created: June 5, 2009