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Policies to Prevent Domestic Violence Homicides

Every day in the United States, women are killed or severely injured due to the lethal combination of domestic violence abusers and guns.

From 2002 through 2011, an average of 3,551 women were killed every year in the United States. Nearly one-third of all women murdered in the United States are murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The homicide risk for homes with guns is 3 times that in homes without guns. When previous incidents of domestic violence exist, the risk of homicide is 20 times higher.

When abusers have access to firearms, not only women’s safety, but their very lives, are in danger.

Policy Solutions

Currently, federal legislation prohibits those who have been convicted of domestic violence and those subject to a final domestic violence restraining order from purchasing or possessing firearms. Federal law must expand this prohibited purchaser category to include those convicted of abusing dating partners, since the risk of homicide is not dependent on whether the abuser and victim are married or dating. Firearms must also be removed from abusers at the time temporary protection order are granted, and abusers should be prohibited from possessing or purchasing guns for the duration of the temporary order because abusers are often deadliest when victims take those first steps toward leaving and ending the abusive relationship.

Additionally, background checks are the most effective, systematic way to prevent domestic violence offenders from purchasing firearms. Since its creation in 1998, the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) has successfully resolved over 90% of checks instantaneously and effectively blocked more than two million gun purchases by prohibited buyers. However, inconsistent and delayed entry of data into the NICS system too often means that abusers may still be able to purchase firearms because they are not designated by NICS as prohibited purchasers. Legislation should incentivize states to provide prompt and complete entry of civil and criminal prohibited purchaser data into NICS.

The background check system must also be expanded to close the “private sale loophole” that permits even prohibited purchasers to avoid background checks entirely by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers, often at gun shows or through online transactions. Federal legislation is needed to close this dangerous loophole and to keep guns out of the hands of those who would murder their intimate partners.