faith in action

Domestic abuse and gun violence: A fatal intersection

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but the work to stop domestic abuse is needed year-round, with attention to different intersections.

Kate’s story

Last week, I listened as Kate Ranta recounted her story. Five years ago, her ex-husband shot his way into her home and then shot Kate and her father in front of her 4-year-old son.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. However, when I heard Kate’s story, I was not at a meeting about domestic violence. I was at a gun violence prevention gathering.

The intersection of guns and domestic violence is a deadly one:

  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the chance of homicide by 500 percent.

  • More than half of all women killed in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner with a gun.

  • Between 2001 and 2012, more women were murdered by an intimate partner with a gun than the number of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined (more than 6,410 women).

The stories of domestic violence and gun violence victims and survivors highlight critical areas where change is needed. Kate’s story reveals several of these areas.

Domestic violence laws

Though we focus on that near-fatal incident of gun violence, Kate stresses that the home invasion and shooting she experienced was “the end of two years of an escalating pattern of abuse.” This included various forms of harassment, terror and control, such as: emotional, physical, verbal, and financial abuse; stalking; destruction of property; and more.

Despite clear evidence of this abuse, the police were able to do very little to protect Kate and her family. The most Kate could obtain was a temporary restraining order. When that expired, her ex-husband came to kill her.

Believe women

Kate describes how difficult it was for her to obtain a permanent restraining order. In fact, she never received one. She also explained how easy it was for the police to believe her ex-husband when he told them, “Oh, she’s just being hysterical,” after terrifying and threatening her and her child. The lack of physical scars masked the harm Kate was suffering and the danger she and her family were in.

Law enforcement and the judicial system are disinclined to believe female victims. It should not be like that. First responders — as well as the law enforcement and judicial officials who are later involved — must be trained to address domestic violence situations in a way that supports women and children who are experiencing abuse.

Gun regulations regarding domestic abuse and abusers

Because of a law in Florida where Kate was living at the time, the police were able to confiscate the guns Kate’s ex-husband owned when a restraining order was filed against him. However, he was legally free to turn around and buy new ones, which is precisely what he did.

In 2017, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Dakota and Utah passed laws that restrict domestic abusers’ access to guns or established processes for firearm collection when someone is convicted of domestic violence.

Concealed carry reciprocity

These advances are applauded. However, a proposed federal law would mandate concealed carry reciprocity across state lines, which would put all of that at risk.

Concealed carry reciprocity would implement a lowest-common-denominator system in which guns legally obtained in states with lesser restrictions would be allowed in states with higher restrictions. This law directly threatens women and children who flee from their abusers across state lines into a state with stronger laws.

Kate’s last words to the law enforcement officials with whom she interacted before her ex-husband’s shooting were: “Basically, I have to be dead before you can do anything; before anything can be done to stop him.”

As it turned out, she was not joking.

Change is needed.

What you can do.

Learn about gun laws in your state. For example, 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit firearm possession or purchase by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, and 37 states prohibit firearm possession by abusers who are subject to domestic violence protection orders.

Advocate to change laws, gun laws, domestic violence laws and laws that address the intersection. Close the boyfriend and stalking gaps in gun and domestic violence legislation. Oppose concealed carry reciprocity.

Prevent situations. As Kate said, the near-fatal shooting culminated two years of escalating abuse. Kate and her ex-husband exist in our congregations, neighborhoods, workplaces and communities who are suffering domestic abuse or who are domestic abusers. Intervene. Stand up to domestic violence. Be an active bystander and stop the violence before it progresses.

Change the culture. Sexism, misogyny and acceptance of abuse are deeply embedded in our society, legal system and government structures.