Firearms and Teen Dating Violence

Published: Mar 1, 2018 | Author: Anton Tripolskii, JD

The entire country has been reflecting on the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, mourning the loss of the 17 lives taken by violence, including those of 14 teen-aged children. All of us at the Battered Women’s Justice Project and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms mourn the lives lost, as well as the lives of family members, friends, and classmates forever changed. Notably, February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: a time for professionals and the public to reflect on our collective responsibility to minimize the impact of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) on teenagers and the generations that will follow. This February the reflection likely included consideration of the role firearms play in teen dating violence, as well as in IPV generally.

The shooter in Florida is described as someone who abused his teenage girlfriend[1] and stalked another teen-aged classmate.[2] His history of violence against girls is not unusual for a perpetrator of mass violence: 54% of mass shootings between 2009-2016 involved the shooting of an intimate partner or family member.[3] Domestic violence was allegedly a contributing factor in about 20% of mass public shootings.[4] In some cases, offenders were able to purchase a firearm, or allowed to keep firearms already in their possession, and commit mass murder, even though they had previously had domestic violence restraining orders filed against them, or had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, both prohibiting factors under federal law with regard to firearms possession and transfer.[5] In addition, the lethal combination of IPV and firearms is well documented: the presence of a firearm in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide of women by 500 percent.[6]

Red Flags: Dating Violence and Stalking

Many states do not recognize dating violence in the same way as domestic violence in their criminal and civil codes. However, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual violence within an intimate relationship, are all forms of IPV and can put victims of violence at high risk of harm. Unfortunately, teen victims of violence have very limited knowledge of available options. For instance, a study showed that teens are not generally aware of what orders of protections are, are less likely to seek law enforcement assistance, and pursue orders when already exposed to an unacceptably high risk of physical violence.[7]

Perhaps for all of these reasons, we routinely fail to identify red flags—including a heightened risk for lethal violence by firearms—when we learn about teen dating violence or stalking. While mass shootings or femicides cannot be reliably predicted, a growing body of research is aiding our ability to identify which individuals present a heightened risk of danger, including for firearm-related violence. The science of identifying and responding to these red flag indicators is becoming increasingly accurate.

Developing Responses to Heightened Risk of Lethal Violence

Risk prevention begins with identifying people who are threats to themselves or others by considering indicators such as a history of violence toward their intimate or dating partners. Certain measures which account for risk are well known, and others are being tested now. One example of a response becoming more popular is an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), sometimes termed a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO). ERPOs are civil court orders which allow families and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people at high-risk of committing violence, and are modeled on domestic violence restraining orders. In Washington state, for instance, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent poses a significant danger of personal injury to themselves or others by remaining in possession of a firearm, the court will issue an ERPO compelling the respondent to surrender all firearms and firearm licenses for one year.[8]

Another way communities are addressing individuals who pose heightened risks is through Behavioral Intervention Teams. A Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) is a multidisciplinary group which meets to review cases of individuals who pose a high risk of danger to the community. The team receives reports and after an investigation performs a threat assessment to determine the best method for intervention. BITs are most commonly found in school districts, colleges, and corporations.[9]

Steps can be taken to prevent abusers from committing IPV with firearms. Some of these steps are common to protection of both adults and adolescents. Offender identification and thorough risk assessment are key: finding new pathways to identify danger, and implementing best practices are significant steps. Professionals in a jurisdiction must communicate amongst themselves about high-risk individuals. We should apply risk assessment as vigorously when teen dating violence and stalking is reported as we do when domestic violence is. Intervention options such as ERPOs and BITs may be appropriate in some cases in protecting our youngest victims of IPV from lethal violence.

 

[2] “Nikolas Cruz, Florida Shooting Suspect, Described as a ‘Troubled Kid,’” M. Haag and S. Kovaleski, The New York Times, 2/14/18.

[5] Ibid.

[8] For more information see Extreme Risk Protection Orders: An Opportunity to Save Lives in Washington. The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (2016).

[9] For more information on BIPs, see the website of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association, www.nabita.org

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