The issue of gun legislation seemingly has eluded bi-partisanship between elected leaders despite constant reminders, including the most recent tragedy in Las Vegas. The topic is equally divisive among the American public with emotions running high among gun control advocates and gun rights activists, despite the fact that most Americans share the same hope: that their elected leaders address the issue of gun violence in a way that works. One way is to examine the link between strict gun laws and domestic violence murder rates.
A new study, spanning 24 years of data, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that states that had enacted stricter gun laws saw domestic violence homicide rates drop — and not just gun-related homicides committed by their intimate partners. This extensive study found that the overall domestic homicide rate in states with stricter gun laws fell by 9.7 percent, importantly indicating that in the absence of a gun, violent intimate partners did not murder by other means.
The Ties Between Firearms and Intimate Partner Violence
Perpetrators of intimate partner violence are five times more likely to murder if they have access to a gun, a statistic that should alarm the Hispanic community in particular; Mexican-American and Puerto Ricans populations experience some of the highest rates of domestic violence in America. In fact, according to the CDC, three out of every ten Hispanic women have been a victim of domestic violence, while six in ten know someone personally who has been a victim.
While there are several laws in place that are meant to curb gun-related domestic murders committed by intimate partners (a category that includes both current and former partners or spouses), nearly 1,000 people each year are fatally shot. The victims are disproportionately women, at a murder rate of approximately 85 percent, and these murders tend to occur when a victim attempts to escape an abusive relationship.
“The risk of homicide is highest in the time shortly before and immediately after leaving,” Sherry Hamby, director of the Life Paths Appalachian Research Center noted earlier this year in an interview with saludmóvil™.
The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban prohibits people convicted of a domestic violence crime (which includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological aggression) from gun ownership. The act also prohibits those with permanent restraining orders related to intimate partner violence from owning a gun.
When Gun Control Laws are not Enough
These laws theoretically prevent domestic gun-related homicide through gun ownership bans, but the federal bans do not require people to relinquish their arms; the laws simply prohibit the possession of arms by perpetrators of intimate partner violence, without explicitly requiring them to surrender arms that they already have in their possession.
Some states passed gun prohibition laws to strengthen the intent of the federal ban, but these state restrictions still do not address a gaping policy loophole in policymakers’ attempt to address intimate partner gun-related homicide.
“One of the most glaring gaps in the nation’s gun laws — even in states with the strongest gun laws in the country, like California — is the lack of an effective firearm relinquishment policy,” The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence stated in a report cited by the study.
When Gun Control Saves Lives
This gap has prompted some states — currently, only 12 of them — to pass laws requiring the relinquishment of arms to authorities on top of the prohibition on possession. Among these states, the rate of gun-related domestic homicide dropped by 14 percent, compared to a statistically non-significant drop of six and a half percent in states that had merely passed prohibition laws.
Just passing legislation limiting the access to firearms is not, in and of itself, an efficient way to curb gun violence. However, despite speculation that people will find a way to access firearms regardless of the law, this study refutes the prevalent notion that gun control legislation “won’t work.”
“Our findings suggest that state laws restricting firearm possession by persons deemed to be at risk for perpetrating intimate partner abuse may save lives,” reads the study’s conclusion.
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