Season 1
Episode 4
The
problem
with
Guns

Domestic violence affects one out of every four women in this country. It is deadly not only for those who are abused but also for law enforcement called to intervene — and that’s thanks mostly to guns. If we took guns away from people who have a history of domestic violence, we could make a big dent in gun deaths.

So why haven’t we done it? Scroll down to dive in.

The law exists, so let's enforce it

Guns are everywhere. We probably won't ever be able to get rid of them entirely, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make sure fewer people die from them. One of the most clear-cut things we can do is to take them away from bad guys. In this episode, we learned that there's one particular group of bad guys who are responsible for a whole lot of gun deaths: people who commit domestic violence.

In fact, virtually everyone agrees that DV offenders shouldn’t have guns. There’s already a federal law, known as the Lautenberg Amendment, that says just that! Unfortunately, it’s wildly out of date, and it has a bunch of dangerous loopholes. But one serious issue with it is that it doesn’t specify how you’re actually supposed to remove the guns from abusers.

In many places, even where there are state laws that require DV offenders to relinquish their weapons, there’s no system in place to make sure these guns get handed over to law enforcement. That leaves these places essentially operating on an honor system. Anyone who has ever left a bowl of Halloween candy on their steps with a "Please take one!" sign knows how well that works.

Domestic violence hurts everyone

In the U.S., a woman is shot dead by an intimate partner every 14 hours. But if that's not concerning enough to you, let us assure you that DV offenders are dangerous to everyone, not just their partners. Research has found that a felony domestic violence conviction is the single greatest predictor of future violent crime among men. According to a Bloomberg analysis, "Between 2014 and 2019, almost 60% of shooting incidents with four or more casualties involved an aggressor with a history of—or in the act of—domestic violence."

So it's not enough to just talk about guns. Whether you realize it or not, DV is happening all around you. Yet it's a problem that so few people talk about because of the shame that often surrounds it. It's a hard crime for the victims to report, it's difficult for law enforcement to intervene effectively, and it can be all but impossible to leave an abusive relationship.

We can start by de-stigmatizing DV and talking more openly about this epidemic of violence. We also need to work within our communities to make it easier for people experiencing DV to get support, both social and legal, that can help them safely leave abusive relationships.

And, as April Ross said on our panel, it's crucial that people in law enforcement get trained on what DV actually looks like. It isn't always cuts and bruises. Training police to respond more effectively to DV calls would not only protect more victims but could get more potentially dangerous abusers into the court systems before they have the chance to go on a killing spree.

This is a question of... closet space?

Changing our society's handling of domestic violence is obviously a long-term project, but on a very practical, immediate level, why aren't we taking guns away from people who've already been prosecuted for DV or have a restraining order against them? Kinda seems like a no-brainer, given that THERE IS ALREADY A LAW ABOUT THIS VERY THING.

There is no single answer to this question, but suffice it to say that within the world of law enforcement there are an assortment of obstacles (and sometimes excuses) that keep police officers from stepping in to take people's guns away. It can come down to an individual officer's philosophical beliefs or departments being more focused on handling existing problems than preventing future crimes. But it's also often logistical concerns. There isn't always clear guidance given to police.

And then sometimes it's a concern about storage space. Yes, we are serious. Police departments have actually objected to the idea of confiscating guns from DV offenders by saying they don't know where to store them. The answer is that you can store them in the very same evidence locker you store them after they've been used to commit a murder. Dark, but true.

They let him leave with the firearm in his truck. Yeah, [the police officer] told me she couldn't get it. It was a gray area. He shot me with it. Five days later. He ambushed me. He was hiding on the side of the house with a gun holster, a Smith and Wesson nine-millimeter and an extra box of ammunition.

Janet Paulsen

Take action

A simple plan to take guns away from DV offenders

The likelihood of fixing this on a federal level is hahahahaha ... have you seen how Congress behaves when anyone mentions the words "gun control"? So, yeah, the best place to start, as activist and survivor April Ross said on the show, is at the community level. On this topic, we want to highlight the work of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms.

We spoke with Alicia B. Nichols, their deputy director, and Dave Keck, their director, about the protocol they’ve developed to help communities reduce gun violence related to domestic violence. It’s a four-step plan that research has shown can be effective. It’s so beautifully simple that it would make Marie Kondo shed a tear, and it can be put into place in any community — though that’s not to say convincing institutions to make this kind of shift is an easy task!

Step 1:

This begins with the courts. A designated observer in the courtroom asks a simple question during any proceeding: "Does whatever happened in here today make this person ineligible to possess a gun?" The judge should know the answer.

Step 2:

If this person can no longer have guns, the next step is to figure out if they have any guns and get the details of where and what they are. Ideally, the sole burden of this should not fall on the survivor of their abuse. One way to more easily track guns is to start asking about them during any interaction with law enforcement. Alicia gave us the example of St. Paul, Minnesota, where everyone in the system — from 911 dispatchers to victim advocates — asks for the details of any firearms in the house, even if they weren’t used in the incident. This not only creates a record of who possesses weapons, but it also helps protect law enforcement as they arrive into what can be a very dangerous scene.

Step 3:

If the person does possess firearms, the court issues an order to surrender them. That order notifies the local law enforcement agency that they are to be turned over, and the person has to take the guns to that agency and hand them over. If they show up and do that, the police give them a receipt.

Step 4:

The last step is the most important, and that is ensuring DV offenders comply with the order. The easiest way is to make it so that a compliance hearing is automatically scheduled a week after an order to surrender firearms is given. If the person has already handed over their weapons and gotten a receipt, the hearing gets cancelled and nobody’s time is wasted. But if they haven’t, they have to show up and explain why they’ve chosen not to comply and face the consequences.

Voilà! Of course, this doesn’t fix the underlying issues that allow DV to be so prevalent, but it does mean the guns are stored safely in the same place that any weapons the police confiscate are and the chance that this person will commit gun violence goes WAY down.

Places to start

If you're interested in reading more, check out Apple News collection Jon put together.

The best place to start is to look for organizations tackling domestic violence or gun violence in your community — like the RISE project in New York City. You can follow our panelists, April Ross and Janet Paulsen. And there are some great national organizations as well:

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Giffords Law Center

Everytown for Gun Safety

Funny Shit

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline here, call 1-800-799-7233, or text "START" to 88788. Their services are free and available 24/7.