With the recent mass-casualty shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas deservedly occupying much of the headlines in newspapers across the country, we feel compelled to remind again of the devastating impact that daily gun violence has on the lives of families experiencing domestic abuse. This is a reality that is keenly felt by our staff at Home Free Community Program and Shelter as advocates working within these programs witness the aftermath of gun violence among families victimized by domestic assault.
Because the risk of lethality is significantly higher for victims of domestic violence living in a home where guns are present, we make it a priority to collaborate with other domestic violence service organizations across the state to advocate for sensible gun safety legislation.
A recent New York Times article highlighted the risk of gun ownership by abusers. The article outlined the findings of a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine which concludes that gun ownership is an indicator of increased lethality for women who are abused by their partner.
“The study reaffirms a well-known connection between access to guns and abusive relationships turning deadly, at a time when intimate partner homicides are on the rise. Research has shown that women killed by their partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than by all other means combined, and the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations can increase the risk of homicide for women by as much as 500 percent, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.”
In February, the Minnesota State Legislature debated the merits of a “Red Flag” bill that would have allowed relatives or law enforcement to petition a judge to take away firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. The bill passed in the MN House, but it failed to advance in the Senate, leaving Minnesota families with few legal options for preventing gun violence in the home.
“We don’t have any clear answer for people who call and say there are guns in the house and that they want them removed,” says Elsa Swenson, Program Manager of the Home Free Community Program. “It’s not clear to local police what they can and cannot do in regards to removing guns, when they have the authority to and when they don’t. Local police refer us to the Sheriff’s department, but the Sheriff’s department says they can’t remove them. So, what ends up happening is that law enforcement tells the victim that they have to remove the guns themselves. Which is obviously not safe.”
While it appears that for now gun safety legislation in the state is stalled, the shootings in Dayton and El Paso have once again brought the debate to a national stage. In spite of the collective cynicism among some politicians and advocates alike that meaningful gun death prevention efforts will ever be passed by Congress, there are glimmers of hope that some real change could be just around the corner. For that hope to ignite meaningful change, we are all required to take action.
We urge you to contact your state and local representatives and ask them to take the steps necessary to prevent the senseless deaths caused as a result of an abuser having easy access to a firearm. We also ask you to contact your Senator to ask for their support in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate. VAWA ensures funding for domestic violence organizations nationwide, including Home Free Community Program and Shelter. For information on what you can do or to learn more about this issue, please check out the resources listed below.
Featured image courtesy Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Katy Daniels is the Associate Director for Missions Inc. Programs.