Guns and domestic violence

Virtually every gun in the United States begins as a legal gun, manufactured legally and  initially sold by a federally licensed gun dealer to an individual who passes a federal back ground check. However, many people with known anger, violence and/or alcohol prob lems can pass a federal background check (Swanson et al. 2015) and many people who  cannot pass a background check still have easy access to firearms. The movement of guns  to individuals who cannot pass a background check occurs via various mechanisms, includ ing straw purchases, gifts, sales without a background check (Miller et al. 2017), and gun  thefts.  

Why are we talking about guns and Domestic Violence? 

The lethality of firearms in situations of domestic violence is well documented, leading to a  five fold increase in the likelihood that a woman will be killed when the abuser has access  to a gun. Research by Sorenson demonstrates that the risk to victims also includes fear and  

intimidation. The study finds that abusers who use guns likely do so to intimidate their  partners into staying in the relationship. Known as coercive control – a pattern of ongoing  behavior used to dominate a partner – firearms appear to play a significant role in the abil ity of an abuser to maintain control over a partner. 

Federal law prohibits abusers who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemean ors and abusers subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders from purchasing  and possessing guns, and many states have expanded those restrictions to further protect  victims and their families. Few states have added to by prohibiting the purchase or require  the surrender of firearms or removal of firearms from domestic violence offenders; or  require comprehensive reporting of offenders to the databases used for firearm purchaser  background checks. 

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, and Pennsylvania require the surrender of  firearms by every individual who has become ineligible to possess them, including those  convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or subject to a domestic violence protective  order. Promising practice for the removal and retrieval of firearms from individuals subject  to protective orders for domestic abuse has been explored in detail by Prosecutors Against  Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy in their report Firearm  Removal/Retrieval in Cases of Domestic Violence

Sorenson also notes that police and the medical community should be proactive in their  response to domestic violence and be ready to provide victims with information about  community resources, victim-assistance services and the process for seeking protection  orders. 

A new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health by Susan B. Sorenson, a research er at the University of Pennsylvania, is now shedding light on the psychological impact of  gun use in abusive relationships. More commonly, 69 percent of the time, it was used to  threaten or coerce the intimate partner Guns were only fired 10 percent of the time. That  chronic fear can be extremely detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health, said  Julian Ford, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine  and Law. 

If a person does not feel safe inside their own home and believes they could be injured or  killed at any time, they will go into a survival state describing it as being in a constant “fight or flight” mode ― but having nowhere to go.  

Experiencing trauma of this kind can make a person more susceptible to medical illnesses,  as well as a wide range of emotional and behavioral difficulties including depression, anxi ety and sleep problems. 

 – Ravi Sharma (Excerpts taken from Sorenson, SB. J Womens Health 2017 Mar;26(3): p249