More intensive screening to identify firearm owners among individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders, and streamlining processes to recover guns at the time those restraining orders are served could help enforce existing laws that prohibit these offenders from having firearms, a pilot study conducted by violence prevention experts at the University of California, Davis, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found.
The initiative, developed by law enforcement officers in San Mateo County and Butte County in California with consultation from the California Department of Justice and study authors, developed and assessed processes that could potentially improve firearm-recovery rates among individuals with domestic violence restraining orders. The study was published online Dec. 12 in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Intimate partner violence is a significant threat to the public’s health and safety, especially for women, and firearms play a prominent role,” said Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and lead author of the study.
“Women are at least twice as likely to be murdered by partners using a firearm than by strangers using any weapon,” he said. “Abusers with firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their victims than those without firearms. Firearm-owning abusers also are nearly 8 times more likely to threaten partners with firearms. We need to do more to disarm known offenders to prevent violence.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation crime database, an estimated 1,127 women were murdered and some 605,000 were assaulted by their partners in the U.S. in 2011. In addition, nearly 36 percent of U.S. women participating in the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey said they have experienced violence at some time in their lives.
“Existing federal and state statutes addressing firearm possession among individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders are one step in assuring that people who are violent toward their intimate partners don’t have access to guns,” said Shannon Frattaroli, faculty with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and a study co-author. “Our study is instructive for states and localities interested in assuring those laws are enforced.”
Currently, federal and state statutes prohibit the purchase and possession of firearms by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Many states authorize or require courts to order offenders to surrender their firearms for the duration of the order. But these statutes are not enough, even in states with particularly strict requirements, the authors say.
In California, for example, offenders must surrender their firearms to a law enforcement agency or sell them to a licensed firearms retailer within 24 hours after the order is served, and file a receipt with the court to document compliance within 48 hours. Since 2007, they also must surrender their firearms immediately if a law enforcement officer makes a demand for them.