The Effects of Prohibitions Associated with Domestic Violence

April 22, 2020

The presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation can intensify the level of violence and risk of serious injury for the victim of abuse (Campbell et al., 2003). Intimate partner violence (a subset of domestic violence restricted to current or previous romantic partners) that involves a firearm is 12 times more likely to result in death than similar incidents that do not involve a firearm (Saltzman et al., 1992). Domestic abusers with guns also pose a threat to individuals outside their family unit (Smucker, Kerber, and Cook, 2018). Intimate partner homicides are often accompanied by one or more additional victims, as well as the perpetrator’s suicide (Smith, Fowler, and Niolon, 2014; Logan et al., 2008).

How Prohibitions Associated with Domestic Violence Affect Gun Use Outcomes

Inconclusive Evidence

No Studies Met Our Criteria

  • Defensive Gun Use
  • Gun Industry Outcomes
  • Hunting and Recreation
  • Mass Shootings
  • Officer-Involved Shootings
  • Unintentional Injuries and Deaths

Although individuals convicted of domestic violence felonies have been prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms and ammunition since the Gun Control Act of 1968 (Pub. L. 90-618), two key pieces of federal legislation have sought to impose additional restrictions to address the risks that domestic abusers with guns pose to their families and society more broadly. In 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (Pub. L. 103-322), making it illegal to possess or receive a firearm while subject to a nontemporary restraining order protecting an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner (Vigdor and Mercy, 2006). Subsequently, in 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment (Pub. L. 104-208) to the Gun Control Act of 1968 extended the prohibition on possession of a firearm by domestic violence offenders to anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.[1] Because of how federal law defines an intimate partner, these policies can be applied to current or former spouses, a person who shares a child in common with the victim, or a person who is currently cohabiting or previously cohabited with the victim. Thus, dating partners who have never cohabited are not covered by these laws.

Both before and after the 1994 and 1996 federal law changes, many states enacted additional legislation designed to reduce firearm access for accused and convicted domestic abusers. Most commonly, these state laws mirror federal regulation—barring firearm ownership and possession among those served with domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) and those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Although federal law applies at the state level, mirroring laws can streamline the process of implementing federal regulations at the state level by clearly delineating authority for firearm removal and a process for surrendering firearms (Cherney et al., 2019; Gold, 2003).

Furthermore, because state law may define a domestic partner more broadly than federal law does, mirroring state policies for those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or subject to a DVRO may apply to a broader class of individuals. For instance, several states expanded on the federal definition of intimate partner by also including same-sex couples and dating partners who have not cohabited. It is unclear the extent to which a broader designation of intimate partner would expand the pool of prohibited possessors, but crime statistics show that a high proportion of women killed in domestic violence incidents are killed by their unmarried partner. In 2008, the proportion of intimate partner homicides committed by a spouse (46.7 percent) was nearly equal to the proportion committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend (48.6 percent) (Cooper and Smith, 2011). Although it is possible that some of these unmarried partners were cohabitants (and thus would be covered by federal law), it is likely that some of these relationships would not be covered by federal law.

States have also expanded domestic violence–related prohibitions to include ex parte DVROs, which are orders put into effect before the defendant attends a hearing to defend himself or herself, reducing the likelihood that the defendant will access firearms during the most lethal moment of an abusive relationship: when the abused party tries to leave the abuser (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2005; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2002). Ex parte orders typically last from one to two weeks to ensure that the defendant receives a hearing without significant delays. Some states also allow victims of harassment or stalking to apply for orders of protection that bar firearms, and some impose firearm prohibitions to those convicted of stalking misdemeanors.

Critics of ex parte provisions for DVROs object to how they could deny gun owners their rights without due process (i.e., before a defendant has the opportunity to state his or her side of the case) (National Rifle Association, Institute for Legislative Action, 2019a). Furthermore, ex parte orders typically require only a preponderance of evidence that the defendant poses a risk—a low standard of proof—so they could be abused to harm a domestic partner, such as one whose job requires him or her to carry a weapon (Sullum, 2019).

Finally, although federal law provides no guidance on how firearms should be removed once a person is barred from owning or possessing one, several state laws have established enforcement mechanisms. Some states specify to whom abusers must surrender their weapons while the order is in effect, such as the police or other designated third parties. Some states also require or allow law enforcement officials to remove the firearms if the person fails to surrender them. For more information about firearm surrender and seizure laws, see our analysis of surrender of firearms by prohibited possessors.

Because the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood that domestic violence will result in homicide (Campbell et al., 2003), prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms is a strategy for reducing domestic violence–related injuries and homicides. Component parts of each law, including ex parte provisions and effective surrender guidelines, may increase the effectiveness of the law by removing firearms from abusers at the time victims are most at risk and by ensuring that abusers are not able to keep guns illegally.

Domestic violence–related firearm laws may also affect suicide rates. Research suggests that intimate partner homicides in which firearms are the primary weapon are more likely to result in the suicide of the perpetrator than are intimate partner homicides that do not involve firearms. Approximately 90 percent of intimate partner homicides that end with the perpetrator’s suicide are committed with firearms (Logan et al., 2008). In addition, access to a firearm may decrease the time abusers have to consider their behavior in a highly emotional situation (Smucker, Kerber, and Cook, 2018). Thus, removing a firearm from a domestic violence incident may lower the likelihood of not only the victim’s death but also the perpetrator’s suicide.

There is some evidence that mass shooters often have a history of domestic violence, so domestic violence–related firearm laws could affect mass shooting incidents. From 2009 to 2016, 54 percent of mass homicides (defined as four or more individuals killed in one incident) started with or included domestic or family violence (e.g., a man kills his wife and goes on to kill others in a mass attack), and all were committed with firearms (Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, 2017b). An earlier analysis of mass shootings (defined as four or more individuals, not including the offender, murdered with firearms in one incident) from 1999 to 2013 found that 40 percent involved familicide; additionally, about 20 percent of all mass public shootings involved a domestic dispute as a contributing factor (Krouse and Richardson, 2015). It is possible, therefore, that prohibitions associated with domestic violence could disarm a potential mass shooter and prevent a mass shooting.

The presence of firearms in a domestic violence situation can also threaten law enforcement officers. A 2013 study of their deaths found that domestic dispute calls were among the deadliest for these officers. Between 1996 and 2010, 116 law enforcement officers were killed in the United States while responding to a domestic disturbance call, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all officer homicides during this time (Kercher et al., 2013). Domestic disturbances were the third most common encounter resulting in such homicides, and nearly all (94 percent) of these were firearm homicides. Limiting domestic abusers’ access to guns may reduce the lethality of such calls for law enforcement officers and reduce officer-involved shootings more generally. If an officer does not feel threatened by a suspect because he or she is not armed with a gun, the officer may be less likely to use lethal force in the situation. Indeed, research reveals that most law enforcement homicides of civilians are of civilians who are armed with firearms (Hemenway et al., 2019a).

Alternatively, the process or threat of removing a firearm may increase tensions in a domestic violence situation, which may increase the risk of violence to the victim, officers responding to the situation, and the abuser. Moreover, some victims may fear retaliation and thus not come forward with a domestic violence charge if they know that it could result in a partner’s firearm being removed (Vittes et al., 2013).

It is unclear how domestic violence–related firearm laws would significantly affect defensive gun use or the gun industry. If implemented correctly, these laws should remove firearms only from perpetrators, not victims seeking firearms for self-defense; yet the perpetrators would then no longer have the ability to defend themselves with a firearm in a threatening situation either. Similarly, these laws are unlikely to affect sufficient numbers of gun buyers to have a material effect on gun sales or the gun industry.

To understand the potential effect size of these policies, it would be helpful to have information on the size of the affected population and the extent to which the laws succeed in restricting access to firearms by perpetrators of violence. Research could benefit from detailed information about state implementation of these policies because, although states may have similar laws, each state and even counties within a state may have very different processes for ensuring that domestic abusers do not access firearms (Zeoli et al., 2019).

Furthermore, existing research struggles with a lack of comprehensive national data on intimate partner homicides and other violent crimes. Such data sets as the Supplementary Homicide Reports database, which was the data set used in all but one of the studies we identified on the association of domestic violence–related prohibitions with violent crime, often contain incomplete accounts of homicides in the state, and details about the incident, such as whether the person killed or was killed by his or her partner, may also be lacking. Representative data on nonfatal gun use in intimate partner violence—such as on the use of guns to threaten, intimidate, coerce, or nonfatally injure—are substantially more limited (Sorenson and Schut, 2018). Of course, stronger data would strengthen research across all domains outlined in our analysis.

State Implementation of Prohibitions Associated with Domestic Violence

Possession Prohibited

Possession Prohibited – Ex Parte

State implementation data valid as of January 1, 2020.

As of January 1, 2020, 42 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by individuals subject to DVROs.[2] Of those, 18 states prohibit possession when an order is issued ex parte.[3] Twenty-eight states have expanded the applicability of the DVRO firearm prohibition beyond the definition in federal law to include individuals in a dating relationship regardless of whether they cohabited or have a child in common.[4] While some states prohibit possession of firearms to individuals subject to DVROs as a matter of course, others leave discretion to the judge on whether the person subject to the order should be allowed to possess a firearm; this judicial discretion can apply to standard DVROs,[5] as well as ex parte orders.[6]

Some state laws assert that a judge may include a firearm ban if one or more conditions are met (for example, if the person poses an immediate risk to others or if a firearm was previously used in an assault on a family member). Additionally, in states where a DVRO includes a firearm ban, some states provide judges with the discretion to decide whether the subject of the order must surrender his or her existing firearms to the state or provide evidence that the weapon was given to another person for safe­keeping; eight states allow judges to decide whether a firearm can be removed by state law enforcement from the subject of the order if he or she does not surrender the weapon as instructed.[7]

Many states go further than just prohibiting possession of firearms by individuals subject to DVROs. Twenty-three states require (or allow judges to require) individuals to surrender their firearms.[8] Seven states additionally allow or require law enforcement officers to remove firearms from prohibited possessors.[9]

Finally, four states go further than federal law and require that court officials notify federal and state agencies of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction.[10] The information is then included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and, if a convicted individual attempts to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearm dealer, he or she should be unable to complete the purchase. At least one state’s laws require notifying the person who filed the restraining order or was the victim of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence that the abuser attempted to purchase a firearm.[11]

Notes

  1. Federal law defines a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as a misdemeanor offense under federal, state, or tribal law that
    has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim. (18 U.S.C. 921)
    Return to content
  2. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. Return to content
  3. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. See Calif. Fam. Code §§ 6218, 6389; Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-14-105.5(11), 13-14-104.5(4); Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 217(a)(4), 46b-15(b); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 586-3, 134-7(f); Ill. Stat. Ch. 725 §§ 5/112A-14(14.5), 5/112A-17.5(b); Me. Stat. 19 § 4006; Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, §§ 3B, 4; Mich. Comp. Laws Serv. §§ 28.422, 552.14, 600.2950, 600.2950a; Mont. Code §§ 40-15-201(2), 40-15-102(1), 45-5-206(2)(b); N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 173-B:4(I), 631:2-b(III)(b); N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28fj, 2C:25-29b; N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 828, 842-a(1), (2); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-3.1; N.D. Cent. Code § 14-07.1-03; 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3); Tex. Penal Code § 25.07(a); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-106(2)(f); W. Va. Code §§ 53-8-7(d)(1)(F), 48-207-204(4), 48-27-403. Return to content
  4. Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. See Alaska Stat. § 18.66.990(5); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3601; Calif. Fam. Code § 6210; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38a(2); 10 Del. Code § 1041(2)(b); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 586-1; 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/112A-3(3); Ia. Code § 236.2(5); La. Rev. Stat. § 46:2136.3; Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, § 1(e); Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2; Mont. Code § 45-5-26(2); Neb. R.S. § 42-903(3); Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33.018; N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-19; N.M. Stat. § 30-7-16; N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 530.11; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-1(b); N.D. Cent. Code § 14-07.1-01.4; Ore. Rev. Stat. §135.230; 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6102(a); R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-15-1(10); S.D. Codified Laws § 25-10-3.1(2); Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-601(5)(C); Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 71.0021; Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-106(2)(f); W. Va. Code § 48-27-204; Wisc. Stat. § 813.12(ag). Return to content
  5. Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia. See Alaska Stat. 18.66.100(c); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3602(G)(4); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7(f); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-6301(a); La. Rev. Stat. § 46:2136.3; Me. Stat. 15 § 393(1)(D); Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, § 3B; Mich. Comp. Laws §600.2950a(3); Minn. Stat. § 609.2242 Subd. 3(f); Mont. Code §§ 40-15-201(2), 40-15-204(3); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-924(1)(g); Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33.031(1)(b), 33.018; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.8(a), 50B-3.1I(a); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3113.31 (F)(2); Ore. Rev. Stat. § 166.255(1); R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-15-3(4); S.C. Code § 16-25-30; Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-106(2)(f); W. Va. Code, § 61-7-7(a)(7), (8). Return to content
  6. Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah. See Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-14-105.5(11), 13-14-104.5(4); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 586-3, 134-7(f); Me. Stat. 19 § 4006; Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, § 3B, 4; Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2950a; Mont. Code §§ 40-15-201(2), 40-15-102(1); N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28fj, 2C:25-29b; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-3.1; N.D. Cent. Code § 14-07.1-03; 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-102(2). Return to content
  7. California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey allow removal in regular and ex parte cases. See Calif. Penal Code §§ 1524, 18250; Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b); 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/112A-14; Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, §§ 1, 3B; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:4, 5l; N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28(j), 29(b). Delaware and New Mexico allow removal for regular cases. See 10 Del. Code § 1045(a)(11); N.M. Stat. § 40-13-5(4). Return to content
  8. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin. See Alaska Stat. § 18.66.100(c); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3602(G)(4); Calif. Penal Code § 29825(b); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5(1); 11 Del. Code § 1448(a)(8); Fla. Stat. § 741.31(4)(a); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7(f); Ind. Code Ann. § 34-26-5-9(c)(4); Ia. Code § 724.26(4); La. Stat. Ann. Code of Crim. Proc. Art. 1002; Md. Code, Family Law § 4-506(f); Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, § 3B; Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, Subd. 3(f); Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33.031(1)(b); N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:5; N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-29(b), 2C:58-3c(6); N.M. Stat. § 40-13-5(4); N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 828, 842-a; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-3.1I(a); R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.1-3; Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f)(1)(B); Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040(2)(a); Wisc. Stat. § 813.12(ag). Return to content
  9. California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. See Calif. Penal Code § 1524; 10 Del. Code § 1045(a)(11); Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b); 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 60/214(b)(s14.5); Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 209A, § 3B; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:5; N.M. Stat. § 40-13-5(4). Return to content
  10. New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. See N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law §§ 370.15, 380.97; 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/112A-11.1, 5/112A-11.2; Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 265, § 13N; Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 5. Return to content
  11. Wash. Rev. Code (ARCW) § 36.28A (added by 2017 c 261 § 5). Return to content

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  • Vittes, Katherine A., Daniel W. Webster, Shannon Frattaroli, Barbara E. Claire, and Garen J. Wintemute, “Removing Guns from Batterers: Findings from a Pilot Survey of Domestic Violence Restraining Order Recipients in California,” Violence Against Women, Vol. 19, No. 5, 2013, pp. 602–616.
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  • Zeoli, April M., Shannon Frattaroli, Kelly Roskam, and Anastasia K. Herrera, “Removing Firearms from Those Prohibited from Possession by Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: A Survey and Analysis of State Laws,” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2019, pp. 114–125.
  • Zeoli, April M., Alexander McCourt, Shani Buggs, Shannon Frattaroli, David Lilley, and Daniel W. Webster, “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 187, No. 11, 2018, pp. 2365–2371.
  • Zeoli, A. M., and D. W. Webster, “Effects of Domestic Violence Policies, Alcohol Taxes and Police Staffing Levels on Intimate Partner Homicide in Large U.S. Cities,” Injury Prevention, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2010, pp. 90–95.
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View the full project bibliography