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Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Firearms and domestic violence can be dangerous and cause devastating harm, but together they are an especially lethal combination. This article will highlight the pain and fear that the presence or even threat of a firearm can cause to domestic violence victims; actions law enforcement can take to be most prepared to respond; and a success story from Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, where the sheriff’s office has created innovative ways to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators.
Domestic violence perpetrators often use firearms to control, terrorize, and intimidate their victims. The magnitude of the problem is staggering: Approximately 4.5 million American women alive today have been threatened by intimate partners with firearms. One million have actually been shot or shot at by their abusers.1 The risk of homicide for women increases by 500 percent when domestic violence situations include the presence of a gun.2 Furthermore, more than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners,3 and “female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined.”4
Even if an abusive partner never pulls the trigger, threatening the use of a firearm can cause profound fear and trauma. The National Domestic Violence Hotline found that among victims whose abusers had access to firearms, “10 percent said their abusers had fired a gun during an argument,” and “67 percent believed their abusers were capable of killing them.”5
Law enforcement officers often see this deadly combination play out in the line of duty and sometimes feel like there is no easy way to respond. However, law enforcement agencies and officers can better prepare to handle these dangerous situations. The criminal justice system must consistently enforce existing laws and coordinate closely with community organizations. Enforcing 18 U.S. Code §922(g)(8)—the U.S. federal law that prohibits any person subject to a qualifying order of protection from possessing firearms and ammunition—and other existing laws, as well as working across disciplines and organizations within the community, are holistic, long-term ways to keep firearms out of the hands of those who could do most harm with them.
Another key to addressing the intersection of firearms and domestic violence is to have a departmental policy on responding to domestic violence that includes provisions about firearms. Having a policy means there is a consistent, clear guide for how to respond to domestic violence calls and how to best engage on the scene in a way that keeps victims and officers safe.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has provided a model policy for domestic violence that is available for all police departments to implement and make their own. The IACP’s model covers best practices related to firearms when responding to domestic violence. During the initial law enforcement officer response, the IACP encourages that the responding officer restrain the suspect, removing the suspect if necessary, and ask about the presence of any firearms or other weapons in the area. The IACP also recommends that officers take temporary custody of any weapons in plain sight. Moreover, the model policy includes a firearm screening questionnaire when determining the predominant aggressor and outlines how to document any actions taken by law enforcement in regard to firearms present at the scene when documenting the incident on a supplemental report form.
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office was already taking steps to address domestic violence when a domestic abuser killed four people in the parish in 2013. This tragedy prompted enhanced community-wide efforts to combat domestic violence. Under Sheriff Craig Webre’s decades-long tenure, this community has established a model response to domestic violence that involves community policing, a strong partnership with a victim services provider, and tough enforcement of firearms prohibitors.
Led by Lieutenant Valerie Martinez-Jordan, who is also a domestic violence survivor, the social services division of the sheriff’s office “has been taking formal steps to keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited possessors since 2009.”6 The sheriff’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives partnered together to help the sheriff’s office remove guns from those in domestic violence cases who, under federal law, are prohibited from possessing firearms.7
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office created a list comprising every resident with either “a domestic violence protective order active or a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction” and mailed each of them a letter stating that they were prohibited from having guns.8 The sheriff’s office asked every person to sign an “Order to Transfer Firearms and Suspend Handgun Permit” form, in which they had to either describe their firearms or swear they didn’t possess any. The sheriff’s office offered to help owners destroy, sell, store, or transfer their firearms to a relative or friend. If perpetrators were later found to not be in compliance with the form they had signed and they were caught later with firearms, they were then turned over to federal law enforcement.9
From 2010 through 2012 alone, “deputies notified 170 residents that they were prohibited from having guns. The office collected 18 firearms, and that doesn’t include cases in which people made their own arrangements to have someone else hold their guns.”10
In 2014, the State of Louisiana enacted legislation prohibiting possession of firearms by certain domestic violence offenders or those subject to a protection order. Local courts began notifying the sheriff’s office “when a person became ineligible to possess a firearm.”11 Once notified, “deputies flagged the individual with a color-coded system in a computer database accessible to the sheriff’s office, as well as other local law enforcement agencies, such as the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.”12 Having access to this real-time firearm prohibition information enabled law enforcement agents to turn any interaction with an individual into an opportunity to divest them of their firearms.13
Lafourche Parish’s program lead to the firearm transfer legislation enacted in Louisiana in 2018, which established that sheriff’s offices are “responsible for overseeing firearm transfers and outlined procedures to divest prohibited persons of their firearms.”14 The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office also “shares its protocol and forms for divestiture with sheriffs’ departments throughout Louisiana.”15 Moreover, since the 2014 law took effect, “there have been no domestic violence homicides by anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm in Lafourche Parish.”16
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms—a project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women—can support local law enforcement agencies as they work to figure out new ways to address the dangerous nexus between firearms and domestic violence. For more information on the resource center, call 800-903-0111 x1 or email email@example.com.
1. Susan B. Sorenson and Rebecca A. Schut, “Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Trauma, Violence and Abuse 19, no. 4 (2016), doi:10.1177/1524838016668589, as quoted in “Guns and Domestic Violence,” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, accessed September 21, 2020, https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/guns_and_dv0.pdf.
2. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide within Physically Abusive Intimate Relationships: Results from a Multi-Site Case Control Study,” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7 (2003), doi:10.2105/ajph.93.7.1089.
4. Leonard J. Paulozzi et al., “Surveillance for Homicide Among Intimate Partners: United States, 1981¬–1998,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 50, October 12, 2001, https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=195177, as quoted in “Firearms and Domestic Violence,” National Domestic Violence Hotline, accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/firearms-dv/.
5. “Firearms and Domestic Violence,” National Domestic Violence Hotline, accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/firearms-dv/.
6. “Lafourche Parish, LA,” National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms, accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.preventdvgunviolence.org/community-spotlight/lafourche-parish-la.html.
8. Ann Givens, “This Tiny Louisiana Police Force is a National Leader in Taking Guns from Abusers,” The Trace, February 24, 2020, https://www.thetrace.org/2020/02/guns-domestic-violence-lafourche-parish-valerie-martinez/.
11. “Lafourche Parish, LA,” (see note 6).
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