Why Domestic Abusers Can Still Buy Guns


For women, domestic violence is one of the greatest risks associated with guns. Between 2003 and 2012, some 34 percent of all women murdered were killed by an intimate partner, and more people use guns to commit those crimes than any other weapon, according to FBI data. In some states where Centers for Disease Control data is available, that figure is as high as 50 percent of all female homicides attributed to domestic violence. Domestic violence is even a factor in the majority of mass shootings involving four or more victims, according to one recent Mayors Against Guns survey.

So keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is one of the most obvious ways to curb gun deaths. The federal government knows this, and that’s why it bars even individuals with a misdemeanor violence conviction from owning a gun. But that law and surrounding state and federal policies have gaping loopholes that leave too many women vulnerable, according to two reports out Tuesday on the intersection of domestic violence and guns.

Among domestic abusers, for example, only ten states bar those who abuse someone they were dating if they did not live together or have children together, according to the Center for American Progress. One in six women have been stalked at some point in their lives. But among stalkers, only nine states bar those with a misdemeanor offense from owning a gun. And while restraining orders and misdemeanor abuse convictions bar gun ownership in federal background checks, some 35 states don’t enforce their own laws against these major categories of abusers, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Even among those categories of crimes that are banned, the FBI far too often doesn’t get the data they need to make the background check system effective. Only three states appear to be submitting complete records to the FBI. Those states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Mexico — account for 79 percent of all state domestic violence records submitted, while some states are submitting no records at all. Most states also do little to remove guns from abusers after they are convicted. Forty-one states have no clear law on the books requiring all domestic abusers to relinquish the guns they already own.

Fixing these problems with new federal legislation might actually be possible in the near future, now that the gun lobby shows evidence of having reversed its position on this issue, seemingly in conjunction with an effort to court women supporters. While for years, state bills to strengthen domestic violence gun bans were thwarted by reflexive and vehement NRA opposition to any reform that might limit access to guns for anyone, three states passed bills in just the past few months with newfound support from the NRA.

The movement also saw an important victory before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, with a decision that strengthened the definition of misdemeanor crimes of violence under federal gun law.

On Wednesday, gun safety advocates including former congresswoman Gabby Giffords capitalized on this momentum with a national effort to reform domestic violence gun laws. Among the priorities of groups convening in Washington this week are passing federal legislation introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and improving state reporting of crimes to the FBI database. The groups also cite as a major cause for domestic violence the still-festering loophole in federal background checks that omits private sales, even though that loophole has been at the center of the gun lobby’s fierce opposition campaign since the Sandy Hook Massacre. In a story from Everytown’s report, Zina Daniel was killed after her husband — whose restraining order barred him from purchasing guns in a store — purchased a gun through private online seller Armslist.com and avoided a background check altogether, thwarting the effectiveness of the background system.

Another victim who survived near-death by her intimate partner’s gun, Sarah Engle, pledged, “After being raped and nearly killed with a firearm by my ex-boyfriend, I can tell you that women, particularly victims of domestic violence and stalking, are at an unacceptable risk of fatal gun violence. I survived for a reason: to tell my story and bring changes to this broken system. More needs to be done to protect abused women from gun violence and this report makes clear how we can do that.”