The Problem with Guns

What to do about guns and domestic violence


Making enforcement possible

When it comes to gun violence, Americans don’t agree on much. But one of the few things we are on the same page about is that domestic violence offenders shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. In fact, there’s already a federal law, known as the Lautenberg Amendment, that says just that! Unfortunately, it’s wildly out of date (it hasn’t been touched since 1996), and it has a bunch of dangerous loopholes.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. 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. Certainly you can and should push for state laws that put gun removal procedures in place. But it’s often gotta get even more local than that.

A simple plan

One group working on how we can best do that is 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.

Voila! 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

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