The Crime Victims' Institute (CVI) at Sam Houston State University initiated a new series of reports to help victim advocates translate the latest research in the field into practical services and resources for victims, beginning with a study on firearms and intimate partner violence.
The report provides a summary of laws and policies that can be used to better protect victims of domestic violence.
In 2012, 114 women were killed by current or former intimate partners in Texas. Sixty percent of these victims were killed with firearms, and many of the incidents resulted in the death or injury of bystanders, including children.
Research has consistently demonstrated a link between firearms and lethal intimate partner violence. One study showed the most significant factor for predicting homicide in domestic violence cases was gun ownership by the abuser. Another study found that women living with a gun in the home have a significantly higher risk of being murdered, and that risk is 20 times higher when there is a history of abuse combined with gun ownership.
To protect victims of domestic violence, several laws and policies have been enacted. They include:
- The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 makes it illegal to purchase or possess firearms or ammunition by a person who has been convicted of a felony, who is the subject of a protective order, or who has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.
- For protective orders to fall under this federal law, several factors have to be met, including a qualifying relationship, a hearing process, and a specific prohibition against the threat or use of force against the petitioner or child. There is an exception for government employees who use firearms to perform their duties, such as law enforcement officers or military personnel.
- Under the Lautenberg Amendment of 1996, the weapons prohibition was added to the federal law for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Under this provision, the charge must include the threat or use of physical force or a deadly weapon against a spouse, co-habitant, parent or guardian. The law is retroactive, there are no exemptions for those who use weapons in their official duties, and the ban on gun ownership is effective for a lifetime.
- Texas law is similar to federal statues, but also prohibits concealed handgun licenses.
- Several Texas judges have required the surrender of firearms in domestic violence cases, verification of compliance by county attorneys, and notification of victims if weapons are returned. Many of these steps are identified in Texas Family Violence Bench Book.
- A manual published by the National Center on Protective Orders and Full Faith & Credit, "Enforcing Domestic Violence Firearms Prohibitions," includes a firearms checklist for advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. It is available at http://www.fullfaithandcredit.org.
- As part of safety planning, advocates should discuss issues with victims about the ownership or use of weapons by the abuser.