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Study: Gun restrictions could cut intimate partner homicides

Nov 29, 2017

The argument that bad guys will always find a way to get guns, so gun laws don’t help, doesn’t appear to apply to intimate partner homicides.

Getting guns away from domestic abusers during a "time of crisis" can drastically reduce rates of intimate partner homicide, new research finds.
Credit Paul Weaver / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

“If we can prevent people from having firearms during this time of crisis, then we might be able to better safeguard lives,” says Michigan State University criminal justice professor April Zeoli. She’s the lead researcher on a new study looking at whether specific gun restrictions reduce intimate partner homicides.

“And that is what we saw,” she says. “Total [instances] of intimate partner homicide [were] reduced in association with these laws, suggesting that, when people don’t have firearms, they’re not as likely to commit homicide. And it really does make intuitive sense when you think about how lethal a gun is.”  

Zeoli and her team looked at trends over a 34-year period across all 45 states with available data.

The two biggest changes they found:

  1. There’s a federal ban on gun purchases by people convicted of domestic violence. When states expand that ban to include anyone convicted of any violent crime, those states saw a 23% drop in murders by romantic partners.
  2. When states require someone with a domestic violence restraining order to turn over their guns, they saw a 22% reduction in intimate partner homicides.

Currently, Michigan gives judges the option of whether to order those individuals to relinquish their firearms. But even when they do give that order, Zeoli says, it’s not always enforced.

“Where we could get better, is implementing that relinquishment of firearms. Requiring it. This is not newly prohibiting someone from having a gun … [it’s telling judges] you have to do it. Not only are judges forced to order that, but that law enforcement, you know, follows through,” she says.

Michigan’s laws require someone to get a permit from law enforcement before they can buy a handgun, Zeoli says, and that’s been linked with an 11% reduction in intimate partner homicide.

“You don’t hear about them on the news, because they don’t make the news,” she says of murders by romantic partners. “They’re not in public places. But the typical mass homicide, is someone going in to a home and shooting their ex-partner, her children, whoever else is there,” Zeoli says. “This is a dangerous group of people.”  

Zeoli’s study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and was funded by the liberal-leaning Joyce Institute.