Domestic Violence, Firearms, and the Courts

In a study of domestic violence against women, the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, estimated that at least one million violent crimes were committed against former spouses or intimate partners each year. Women were the vast majority of these victims. Prior domestic violence and the abuser’s access to a firearm greatly increased the likelihood that a female intimate partner would become a homicide victim. Research has shown that restricting domestic violence offenders’ access to firearms reduces the number of intimate partner homicides.

State Domestic Violence Laws

More than half the states have laws that restrict access to guns by a person under a restraining order or a protective order. Some state laws prohibit a person convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from buying or possessing a firearm. Some states prohibit possession of a firearm by a person charged with a domestic violence offense.

Federal Domestic Violence Laws

Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. The law included a provision making it a crime for a person subject to a family violence restraining order to possess a firearm. The Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 became effective in 1996 and prohibited anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from buying or possessing a firearm. Law enforcement officers and military personnel are not exempt from the Lautenberg Amendment’s prohibition.

Restraining Orders and Civil Protection Orders

Judges issue restraining orders and civil protection orders if they find evidence of abuse. The orders are aimed at protecting the intimate partner from further abuse or harassment. Some states have a mandatory prohibition on the possession of firearms by certain offenders who are subject to a civil protection order. Other states require a finding by the judge that the offender poses a threat to the safety of the intimate partner before the offender is barred from possessing a firearm.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.