Policies that prevent abusers from accessing firearms are effective at reducing domestic violence homicide.1,2 One policy to reduce firearm violence perpetrated by domestic abusers is a domestic violence protective order (DVPO). DVPOs are civil orders issued by a court to protect victims of abuse and may order various forms of relief from abuse, often including but not limited to, ordering the respondent to stay away from any person eligible for relief, refrain from entering the home of a person eligible for relief, and refrain from purchasing or possessing firearms. Federal law prohibits anyone subject to a DVPO issued after notice and hearing from purchasing or possessing firearms.3 Learn more about DVPOs in your state here.
The way in which DVPO policies are written and implemented can impact their effectiveness. Research shows that reductions in both intimate partner homicide and firearm intimate partner homicide were the greatest when a domestic violence protective order covered dating partners in addition to current and former spouses, when ex parte (temporary) orders were firearm prohibitory, and when the order mandated firearm relinquishment (in addition to a firearm purchase or possession prohibition).4 Further, there are significant reductions in intimate partner homicide when individuals convicted of any violent misdemeanor — not just those that are domestic violence-related — are prohibited from accessing firearms.5
Dating partner loophole
The “dating partner loophole” is a gap in legal protection that allows abusive dating partners who are subject to DVPOs to retain their firearms. Federal law only prohibits DVPO respondents who are current or former spouses and dating partners who have cohabitated or have children with the victim from accessing firearms. Given this gap, some states have closed this loophole by prohibiting dating partners — regardless if they have lived together or have children in common — from purchasing and possessing firearms. Data shows that most intimate partner violence incidents were between non-married individuals, and over half of all intimate partner homicides are perpetrated by dating partners.6 Ensuring that intimate partners — whether or not they are married, live together, or have children in common — can petition for DVPOs is critical, and failing to close this loophole puts countless people at risk.
When state law allows dating partners to petition for a domestic violence protective order there is a 13% reduction in intimate partner homicide and a 16% reduction in firearm intimate partner homicide.7
Temporary domestic violence protective orders
Federal law prohibits anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order issued after notice and hearing from purchasing or possessing firearms.8 However, federal law does not prohibit purchase or possession of firearms for those who are subject to ex parte DVPOs (often called temporary DVPOs) which are issued without notice to the subject of the order. The period after filing for a temporary order is often the highest risk period for a victim of domestic violence. Keeping this risk in mind, some states have closed this gap by prohibiting respondents of ex parte DVPOs from purchasing or possessing firearms. Yet there are many states who still make the distinction between temporary and permanent protective orders, meaning that they prohibit purchase or possession of firearms for final orders, but not for ex parte orders.9 Individuals subject to all DVPOs, temporary and final, should be prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms.
When domestic violence protective orders firearm restrictions cover ex parte orders, not just permanent court orders, there is a 13% reduction in intimate partner homicide and a 16% reduction in firearm intimate partner homicide.10
Federal law does not require the removal of guns that abusers already possess when they become prohibited nor do they outline what a removal process looks like. Instead, states may establish their own removal processes. However, not all states have mandated removal of guns, leaving many opportunities for abusers subject to DVPOs or otherwise prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms to keep their guns. States that require the removal of firearms from prohibited persons have processes that fall into three general frameworks. Some states require respondents to DVPOs to surrender their firearms within a certain timeframe while other states seize guns from respondents. A third option, the hybrid option, results in seizing firearms only after an abuser has failed to surrender them. Requiring the removal of and outlining a process for firearm removal is important to ensure that prohibited persons no longer possess or have access to firearms.
Domestic violence protective orders that require firearm removal are associated with a 12% reduction in intimate partner homicide and a 16% reduction in firearm intimate partner homicide.11
Violent misdemeanor prohibition
Past violence is the best predictor of future violence. There is evidence to suggest that an effective way to prevent intimate partner homicide, by firearm and other means, is to prohibit firearms access for people convicted of any violent misdemeanor. Federal law currently prohibits individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from purchasing or possessing firearms.12 Broader violent misdemeanor prohibitions can help to capture offenders who have been convicted of domestic or nondomestic violent crimes, which is a larger sample than solely prohibiting individuals who have been convicted of domestic violent crimes. Put simply, “When violent misdemeanors are broadly covered, the uncertainty associated with identifying which convictions include intimate relationships is removed. People disqualified in this way may be more effectively prohibited from purchasing firearms.”13
There is a 23% reduction in rates of intimate partner homicide in states when those convicted of nonspecific violent misdemeanors — meaning misdemeanors that were related to any violent offense — are prohibited from accessing firearms.14 Firearm intimate partner homicides were reduced by 21% in places where individuals convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes were prohibited from having guns.15
It is not enough to solely pass policies that address firearms access by domestic abusers — stakeholders, including law enforcement, judges, and activists, must work to make sure they are being efficiently and equitably implemented. This is because where firearms relinquishment laws exist, there has been disparate implementation of firearm relinquishment. Some jurisdictions, like King County, in Washington State16, have made implementation a priority through the development of a multidisciplinary unit focused on harm reduction. Having champions on the ground who are willing to dedicate time and resources to ensuring that firearm relinquishment occurs where and when it should — and committed to problem solving along the way — is key to saving lives.