Gun Politics ‘Distort’ Efforts to Protect Domestic Violence Victims: Study

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Photo by Rod Waddington via Flickr.

“Punitive” approaches to gun control can be counterproductive when they are applied to protecting women from domestic violence, according to a forthcoming research paper.

Gun control advocates who push for “one-size-fits-all” enforcement of laws that make it illegal for anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses to possess firearms “ignore the reality of intimate-partner abuse,” argued the paper in the Ohio State Law Journal, posted online this month.

Such laws fail to address equally valid concerns of potential victims, such as whether an arrest that takes the family breadwinner out of the home would create economic hardship, the paper said.

 “A real danger exists… that the politics of gun control will overwhelm and distort the search for a sound approach to intimate-partner violence,” wrote the paper’s author, Carolyn B. Ramsey of the University of Colorado Law School.

“Stripping all domestic violence offenders of their guns for conduct that includes merely reckless infliction of injury might have a variety of negative outcomes,” Ramsey continued.

“It might chill the reporting of abuse; exacerbate recidivism; lead to unemployment, a known contributor to intimate femicide for abusers whose jobs require them to carry a gun; and leave victims without weapons for self-defense.”

The paper, entitled, “Firearms in the Family,” argued that blanket gun bans for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense fail to take into account the wide variety of concerns and needs of individual spouses who may be victims, including individuals in minority communities.

But at the same time, Ramsey also took gun-rights advocates to task for depicting greater access to guns as a way of empowering women against threats inside and outside the home.

“Female self-defense concerns play a supporting role in gun-rights advocacy,” she wrote. “Gun-carrying women soften the public face of America’s masculine firearms culture. Second Amendment activists frequently deploy images of women wielding firearms to protect themselves from armed robbers at home, mass shooters in our nation’s schools, and rapists lurking in shadowy parking lots.

“(But) singing the praises of concealed-carry does little to protect women from violent attacks by their intimates at home.”

Gun-control and pro-gun advocates, she wrote, are equally at fault for manipulating stereotypes that serve ideological or political goals, and do not address the concerns of women exposed to the threat of domestic violence.

While Ramsey acknowledged that statistics show that about two-thirds of intimate-partner homicide victims are killed with a gun—usually a handgun—and that more than two-thirds of men and women murdered by spouses or ex-spouses between 1980 and 2008 were killed with guns, she cited surveys suggesting that women are skeptical of laws that prohibit all offenders convicted of misdemeanor abuse offenses from possessing firearms.

Ramsey argued instead for a “narrowly tailored” approach to gun prohibition that targets the most dangerous offenders, responds to the individual victim’s concerns, and allows for a way to “differentiate recidivists from offenders who learn to avoid using violence against intimates and family members.”

Noting that enforcement of existing domestic violence gun laws at state and federal levels is often erratic and undependable, she warned that taking a uniformly punitive approach could result in dis-incentivizing the reporting of abuse and increasing the likelihood of further or worse victimization by abusers angered by the removal of their guns.

“Gun-control in the context of domestic abuse ought to respond to a variety of concerns, not solely the aim of reducing homicide rates,” Ramsey wrote.

The research paper can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey (no relation). Readers’ comments are welcome.

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