Gun laws targeting domestic abusers tied to fewer homicides

(Reuters Health) - When people convicted of domestic violence or covered by restraining orders are not only banned from buying guns but forced to give up firearms they already own, they may be less likely to murder their intimate partners, a U.S. study suggests.

Every year, more than 1,800 people nationwide are killed by intimate partners, and approximately half of these homicides are committed with firearms, researchers note in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Nearly all the victims are women.

Over the past quarter-century, intimate partner homicide rates were 9.7 percent lower in states with domestic violence gun laws that kept offenders from getting or keeping firearms, and firearm-related intimate partner murder rates were 14 percent lower, the study found.

“Even though federal law prohibits domestic violence offenders from possessing firearms, states are not able to adequately enforce this law without having it adopted as state law as well,” said senior study author Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health.

Federal law, however, doesn’t require domestic violence offenders covered by restraining orders to turn in weapons in their possession, Siegel said by email.

“So while existing law could help prevent such a person from purchasing a new gun, it does little to prevent access to guns that a person already owns,” Siegel said.

As of 2015, 26 states prohibited firearm possession by people convicted of domestic violence but only 11 of those states also explicitly required these individuals to relinquish weapons they already owned.

For the current study, researchers examined data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on intimate partner homicides committed between 1991 and 2015.

Nationwide, the intimate partner murder rate declined from 1.19 victims for every 100,000 people in 1991 to 0.60 victims for every 100,000 people by 2015, the study found.

Over that same period, the firearm-related intimate partner homicide rate decreased from 0.68 to 0.36 victims for every 100,000 people.

Laws that prohibited the possession of firearms by people subject to restraining orders but didn’t require the surrender of guns didn’t appear to have a statistically meaningful impact on intimate partner homicide rates, the study also found.

One limitation of the study is that states with the most gun restrictions might be different in other ways from states with less restrictive laws or none at all, the authors note.

Even so, the findings suggest that laws requiring people subject to restraining orders to give up their guns may save lives, the authors conclude.

“Half of murdered women are shot and killed by their spouse, ex-spouse, intimate partner or ex-partner,” said Dr. Joslyn Fisher of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, co-author of an accompanying editorial.

“If we can get guns, weapons with the greatest lethality risk, out of the hands of potential perpetrators, we can reduce murder by guns and thus make a dent in the total number of women killed by their partners,” Fisher said by email.

For laws to work, however, they need to be enforced, said editorial co-author Amy Bonomi, a human development and family studies researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

“The study is a clear call to law enforcement, prosecutors and other responsible authorities to ensure systematic enforcement of firearm surrender laws,” Bonomi said by email.

SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine, online September 18, 2017.