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firearms and dv

Taking a Stand Against Gun Violence

This post was contributed by our VP of Policy, Rob Valente

Firearms and domestic violence are a deadly combination. Last year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline conducted a survey addressing the experiences of survivors of domestic and dating violence around firearms violence. Of those who participated in the voluntary survey:

  • 22% said their partners had threatened to use a firearm to hurt the victim, their children, other family members or friends, household pets, or to commit suicide.
  • 10% said their partner had fired a gun during an argument.
  • 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner’s/ex’s/spouse’s firearms.
  • 67% said they believed their partner was capable of killing them.

Homes with guns have a three-fold increased homicide risk as compared to homes without guns. This risk increases to eight-fold when the perpetrator is an intimate partner or relative of the victim. When previous incidents of domestic violence exist, the risk of homicide is 20 times greater.[i]

In light of these sobering statistics, The Hotline would like to thank U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and actress and comedian Amy Schumer for their efforts to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country today. Senator Schumer and Ms. Schumer rightly point to the gaps in our background check system that allow persons – including adjudicated domestic violence abusers – to purchase or gain possession of dangerous firearms. A strong background check system­ is key to reducing firearms violence. Women are 46% less likely to be shot to death by former or current intimate partners in states that require background checks before firearms purchases.[ii]

Senator Schumer and Ms. Schumer proposed three important steps that Congress should undertake to respond to the dangers of lethal firearms violence:

  • Incentivize state efforts to get all necessary records into the federal background check system and penalize states that fail to submit all appropriate records
  • Fully fund mental health and substance abuse programs in the federal budget
  • Have the U.S. Department of Justice study all states’ standards for involuntary commitment and identify best practices.

We commend them for speaking out so firmly in support of reasonable efforts to ensure that gun violence does not threaten the safety of our families, friends and communities.


 

[i] Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. New England Journal of Medicine. 1993;329(15):1084-1091

[ii] State Background Check Requirements and Rates of Domestic Violence Homicide, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, New York, NY 2015, http://everytown.org/documents/2015/01/dv-background-checks-fact-sheet.pdf.

DVAM-valente

I #SeeDV and Firearms as a Lethal Combination: Rob Valente

DVAM-valenteDomestic and dating violence and firearms are a lethal combination. Researchers say that just the presence of a gun in a home where domestic violence is taking place (no matter who owns the gun) increases the risk of homicide by a factor of five. About one-third of female homicide victims are killed as a result of domestic violence; 3% of male victims of domestic violence are killed by an intimate partner. The greatest risk of intimate partner homicide is when an abuser has access to a gun and has threatened the victim or others with the gun.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which tracks homicide data, reports that more intimate partner homicides are committed by dating partners than by spouses. And those numbers are increasing.

Yet studies also show that, where states had laws prohibiting persons subject to protection orders from possessing firearms, firearms homicides of intimate partners went down by 12-13%.

What is often lost in all the data is that abusers use guns not just to kill their intimate partners, but also to intimidate, terrorize, and manipulate them. Some abusers intimidate their dating partners by simply saying, “I went out and bought a gun yesterday.” If there is already abuse in the relationship, that statement is far more complex than it sounds. It’s a way of telling the victimized partner, “I have the means to kill you whenever I want.”

In other cases, the abuser may threaten to use a firearm to kill the partner’s children or their pet if the intimate partner tries to leave. Another form of abuse is when the abuser threatens to commit suicide if the victim leaves. All of these actions are meant to intimidate the intimate partner and control their behavior, and the abuser actually uses or threatens to use a firearm to make the point.

Because firearms are so dangerous, these forms of abuse should not be ignored. It’s important for a victim experiencing these threats to reach out to a helpline, like loveisrespect or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, to find a local program that can help the victim figure out the safest response to these threats.

Recently, the Hotline and the loveisrespect surveyed callers about firearms and got some startling answers.

Of those who answered the survey:

  • 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others
  • 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear
  • When asked if they knew that the court may be able to order their partner to surrender their firearms and ammunition, only 34% of the participants said they were aware of this.
  • Nearly 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner/spouse/ex’s firearms.
  • At least 67% believe their partner is capable of killing them.

The stories that the survey participants told were even more chilling:

  • One caller shared the story about her husband who sleeps with loaded guns under his pillow. One night, she woke to the sound of him releasing the safety next to her head. His guns, she said, are regularly used to threaten her and abuse her.
  • One woman said that her partner shot her while she sat in her car. Another said her husband threatened to shoot her in the face. One of the women said her partner put a gun in his mouth while talking to her on Skype. In another case, a husband recorded a video of how he would kill himself with his gun if she left him. He even showed her the bullets he would use.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, think about whether firearms violence might be a concern. Any use or threatened use of firearms by the abuser against the victim, children, pets, family members, friends, or workplace acquaintances must be taken seriously. The mere presence of firearms raises the risk of death so greatly that it is important to reach out for outside help. Call the Hotline, contact loveisrespect, or reach out to your local domestic violence program to develop a safety plan and to figure out how you will handle these threats.

valente-125Rob (Roberta) Valente is a Policy Consultant for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, with specialized interests in firearms, federal domestic violence laws and interventions, and tribal issues relating to domestic violence. She was one of the national coordinators of legislative work to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. Ms. Valente also serves as a consultant on civil legal issues regarding domestic violence for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the National Congress of American Indians.

firearms and dv

Hotline Focus Survey Provides Firsthand Look at Intersection of Firearms & Domestic Violence; Highlights Need for Stronger Laws and Equal Protection

firearms and dv

June 18, 2014, Washington, DC – Today in Washington, DC, Rob Valente, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert presented highlights from a recent focus survey conducted by The Hotline on the use of firearms in domestic violence situations.  The survey revealed how the presence of a firearm in an abusive relationship intensifies the fear of abuse victims and escalates the violence directed towards them, regardless of whether or not the survivor is married, dating or being stalked by the abuser. Current laws offer protections for married victims of intimate partner abuse, but the same protection is not afforded to those who are in a dating relationship or those who are being stalked. Valente provided the preliminary results of the survey at a panel featuring Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Saundra Rhodes, Chief of Police of Horry County, South Carolina and domestic violence survivor, Sarah Engle.  Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Counselor to the Center for American Progress Action Fund moderated the panel which discussed the intersection between gun violence and violence against women.

One in four women and one in seven men 18 and older in America report they have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. When the abuser has access to firearms, the survey confirmed that victims’ fears intensify and the violence escalates. Statistics show that it also turns deadly. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. More than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners.1

Survey Findings

The findings from the eight week survey conducted this spring by The Hotline shows how guns are being used to coerce, intimidate and inflict injury.

Of those whose partners have access to firearms:

  • 22% said their partner had threatened to use their firearm to hurt themselves, their intimate partner, their children, family members, friends and even pets with a firearm.
  • 67% believe their partner is capable of killing them
  • 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner/spouse/ex’s firearms
  • Only 34% said they were aware that the court may be able to order their partner to surrender their firearms and ammunition

Of those who said their partner had threatened them with a firearm:

  • 76% said their partner made verbal threats to use the gun
  • 24% of them said their partner waved the gun around
  • 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others
  • 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear
  • 54% said their partner had threatened suicide with the gun

Below are some of the anonymous stories told to The Hotline advocates during the eight week survey:

Hotline Survey Anecdotes:

One woman said that during a fight, her partner shot a gun at her. Someone called the police. Her partner was arrested on a violation of a restraining order, but the gun charges were dropped.

One participant in the survey said her partner sexually assaulted her with his gun by putting the gun inside her when she refused to have sex with him.

One caller said her abuser told their young child he would shoot the entire family and maybe others.

One woman’s partner shot her while she sat in her car, another said her husband threatened to shoot her in the face.

One of the women said her partner put a gun in his mouth while talking to her on an internet service. In another case, a husband recorded a video of how he would kill himself with his gun if she left him.

One caller told The Hotline advocate about her husband who sleeps with loaded guns under his pillow. Not long ago, she woke to the sound of him releasing the safety next to her head. His guns, she said, are regularly used to threaten her and abuse her.

Changes to Legislation Needed

Urging policy makers to take immediate action, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert, Rob Valente says, “We need stronger protections for victims now. The people who call the Hotline are brave and they are survivors. They’ve managed to stay alive. Every day at The Hotline, advocates listen to their stories and we hear them and we help them. Today, we must act as their voice, because if they were able to do so, they would tell lawmakers they’re scared, they want the fear and pain to stop and they need help.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline believes that in order for survivors to find safety and live lives free of abuse, changes are needed. Some of the specific ways in which the current legislation should be strengthened:

  • Protecting victims of dating violence and stalking from firearms violence—in addition to the existing protection for victims of domestic violence
  • Protecting victims at the time when they are in greatest danger—when they first go to court to seek help
  • Giving law enforcement the authority to seize firearms when there is probable cause to believe the firearms were used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking
  • Giving courts the authority to order that firearms used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking be removed from the abuser
  • Improving the entry of state data concerning domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking into the National Crime Information Center databases, so that the FBI has the information it needs to prevent adjudicated abusers from getting access to firearms

Domestic violence offenders commit more than a million acts of domestic violence each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths2, approximately 22 percent of which are gun-related.3

“Doing nothing is not an option. Right now, women are being terrorized in their own homes,” Valente said.

1J.C. Campbell, D.W. Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-1097 (2003).

2U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, J.Truman, L. Langton, & M. Planty, Criminal Victimization 2012 (Oct.2013) (Table 1) (1,259,390 incidents of domestic violence in 2012),

3http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/IPV_Guns.pdf