It’s Not Just Domestic Violence — Any Past Violence is a Red Flag

Abusers and those convicted of violent misdemeanors should not have access to guns. Period.

Following the horrific massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the Scientific American published a comprehensive piece detailing four evidence-based policies that could prevent gun violence. The article echoed many of the recommendations that our sister organization, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy put forth in 2013. Perhaps the most important concept — which combines two of the four policies listed in the article — is gun prohibition based on a history of violence — any type of violence.

Whether it’s domestic violence, cruelty to animals, or other violent misdemeanors, research shows the strongest predictor of future violence is a history of violent behavior.

After the shooting, the gunman’s history of domestic violence attracted significant attention — and for good reason. Like any type of violence, research shows a history of domestic violence is a significant risk factor for future violence, and when an abusive partner has access to a gun, the risk the non-abusive partner will die increases more than five-fold. As CSGV has noted in the past, many of the gunmen in recent mass shootings — including the shooter in Texas — had histories of domestic violence that were inadequately addressed.

While in this case, the Air Force admits it did not follow appropriate policies to prevent the gunman from obtaining weapons, many domestic abusers obtain guns simply because federal and state laws are full of loopholes. For example, while federal law prohibits those subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders from buying or owning guns, many abusers are still able to access firearms relatively easily due to the failure to enforce existing laws.

Removal of guns is one such example. Even when an abuser is prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, federal law does not currently outline a process to remove guns already in abusers’ possession. Instead, states establish their own firearm removal processes, and not all states have mandated removal of firearms for all domestic violence misdemeanors or domestic violence protective orders. Texas is one of the states that doesn’t.

We know that restricting abusers’ access to firearms is an effective policy to reduce domestic violence deaths; preventing abusers from obtaining weapons decreases domestic violence homicides by as much as 25 percent. Given this evidence, it follows that preventing abusers from accessing weapons would also reduce the risk of harm to the general public.

In order to protect victims and the general public, we must take concrete action on domestic violence:

  • First, we must prohibit abusers convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from buying and owning guns.
  • Second, we must prohibit abusers subject to all domestic violence restraining orders from buying and owning guns.
  • And finally, we must remove existing firearms from these abusers.

Those who are convicted of assaulting their intimate partners — out of rage or a desire to inflict harm — should not have access to highly lethal weapons. Period.

In addition to his history of domestic violence, the shooter in Texas also had a history of cruelty to animals. According to one of his colleagues, the gunman purchased dogs with the intention of killing them; after taking the animals home, he used them for target practice. Research also shows that cruelty to animals is a predictor of future violence.

No matter how it manifests, a history of violence is a red flag. In order to address America’s gun violence epidemic, we must address the risk factors that can identify dangerous people before these horrific acts of violence occur. It is critical that we prohibit gun ownership — at the state and federal levels — for those convicted of violent misdemeanors, which include cruelty to animals.

One additional policy that could address this problem is the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), also known as a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO). ERPO, which has passed in California, Oregon, and Washington state, allows family members and/or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals exhibiting dangerous behavior. The policy, which is based on behavioral risk factors for dangerousness, gives loved ones the tools to protect individuals in crisis and others.

While laws like ERPO can save lives by identifying those at risk of dangerous behavior and separating them from firearms, such laws cannot and should not replace policies to prohibit those with violent histories, including domestic abusers, from buying or possessing guns.

A violent misdemeanor is a serious offense. Domestic violence is a serious offense. Both are warning signs. It is a travesty that we have not taken these violent crimes seriously — across the country and in Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people — men, women, and children — are now dead. Now is the time to honor their lives with action. Now is the time to disarm domestic abusers. Now is the time to prohibit those with violent histories from buying or possessing guns. Now is the time to empower family members to act. Now is the time to believe the victims and disarm the perpetrators. The evidence is clear. We know what we need to do.

Now it’s time for our legislators to do it.