Every year in the United States, more than 1800 people are killed by their intimate partners, and approximately 50% of these intimate partner homicides (IPH) are committed with firearms. While federal law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence of possessing a firearm, several states do not require offenders to relinquish their firearms. State Intimate Partner Violence–Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015 analyzes this “significant loophole” in the Annals of Internal Medicine, published September 19, 2017.  

Approximately 85% of victims of IPH are women, and IPH accounts for nearly 50% of all homicides involving women in the United States each year. Since 1968, federal law has prohibited firearm possession for those convicted of a felony. In 1996, this prohibition was extended to those convicted of an IPV-related misdemeanor. In addition, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act barred firearm possession by persons subject to permanent IPV-related restraining orders. 

To address this discrepancy, the study analyzed homicides committed by intimate partners, as identified in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports, Supplementary Homicide Reports, from 1991 to 2015 throughout the United States. The results indicate that state laws requiring people subject to IPV-related restraining orders from possessing firearms and requiring relinquishment of firearms were associated with 9.7% lower total IPH rates, and 14% lower firearm-related IPG rates. In contrast, state laws that did not explicitly require relinquishment of firearms were associated with a 6.6% reduction in IPH rates.  

Those last two statistics are worth re-reading. Not only did this intervention reduce the rate of firearms related domestic violence homicide, but the overall homicide rates for this population was reduced. The oft-cited substitution effect (that the perpetrator will substitute another object for the confiscated gun) does not appear to be supported.

This observation in turn suggests that the firearm itself may contribute to escalation of domestic violence to homicide. Certainly, other statistical studies confirm this fact (see above), but the inference is plain that the very nature of abuse with a gun leads to homicide. Take the gun away, the homicide rate itself drops. While it is true that no definitive causal link between guns and domestic violence homicides has ever been established, the same could be said of cigarettes and lung cancer.

“There were 75 fewer IPH deaths in the US in 2015 among states with firearm relinquishment laws than would have been expected in the absence of these laws,” the authors wrote. “Also based on the model, if all 50 states had such laws in place, there would have been an additional 120 fewer IPH deaths across the nation in 2015.” 

While these findings are not surprising, they do provide confirmation that the added step of requiring relinquishment of firearms, rather than simply prohibiting their possession or purchase, does reduce the rate of IPH. This in turn suggests that firearm surrender protocols linked to domestic violence protective orders are one strategy that every community should consider when addressing the problem of IPH. 

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