Analysis: Firearm-Related Intimate Partner Homicides Rise As Supreme Court Prepares to Hear U.S. v. Rahimi
FIREARM-RELATED INTIMATE PARTNER HOMICIDES INCREASE BY 22% AS SUPREME COURT DECIDES IF DOMESTIC ABUSERS CAN BE PROHIBITED FROM POSSESSING GUNS
Every 12 hours, someone is shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner.
On November 7, 2023, the Supreme Court will hold oral argument in a case that could fundamentally change the way the government addresses domestic violence and regulates guns: United States v. Rahimi.
In Rahimi, the respondent Zackey Rahimi argues that the federal law prohibiting him, an individual subject to a qualifying domestic violence restraining order, from possessing firearms is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with him and found that the law under which he was convicted violates the Second Amendment.
Under the federal law in question, an individual subject to a qualifying domestic violence restraining order cannot possess a firearm. This law follows standard due process, ensuring domestic abusers are only disarmed after receiving notice and participating in a hearing before a judge.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated, including in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen and District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Second Amendment provides “law-abiding, responsible” citizens the right to possess firearms, but also allows for reasonable restrictions in service of public safety. Domestic abusers who are subject to a court ordered domestic violence restraining order – including Zackey Rahimi – are not “law-abiding, responsible” citizens. If the Supreme Court allows the Fifth Circuit’s decision to stand, the lives of countless individuals who are protected under domestic violence restraining orders will be put at risk.
The issue of domestic violence cuts across race, gender identity, geographic region, sexual orientation, and class. In a lifetime, one-third of U.S. women and one-quarter of U.S. men are victims of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Each year, an estimated 10 million people in the United States experience domestic violence – including hundreds who are shot and killed by their current or former domestic partner.
The mere presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
In this analysis, Brady works to outline how domestic violence and firearms intersect. Domestic violence and gun violence are deeply interconnected. In fact, over half of intimate partner homicides involve a firearm.
Firearms in the hands of domestic abusers doesn’t just pose a safety risk for the individual’s partner and family, but also the greater public. In the United States, 60% of mass shooting events between 2014-2019 were either domestic violence attacks or perpetrated by those with a history of domestic violence. Several perpetrators of high-profile school shootings – including in the Parkland shooting, the Santa Fe High School shooting, and the Great Mills High School shooting – have histories of adolescent dating violence.
In this analysis, we use data from the Gun Violence Archive to examine firearm homicides carried out by a current or former intimate partner between 2018-2022. In doing so, we analyze the number of intimate partner homicides perpetrated broken down by gender and age of the shooter, geographic location, and time of year. This information allows us to examine connections between gun laws and instances of firearm-related intimate partner homicide, identify trends in the identities of shooters, and offer insight into what repercussions may arise from the upcoming Rahimi decision.
EVERY 12 HOURS, SOMEONE IS SHOT AND KILLED BY AN INTIMATE PARTNER
On average between 2018-2020, 739 people were shot and killed at the hands of their current or former intimate partner each year. Over the same time period, the number of incidents in which a domestic abuser shot and killed their current or former domestic partner increased by 21.8%.
The largest number of intimate partner homicide incidents involving a firearm occurred during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2021, which mirrors previous research that indicated all domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% during the pandemic. Our research indicates that intimate partner homicides involving a firearm increased by 28% from 2019-2021.
At the same time as this increase in intimate partner homicides involving firearms there was a 64% increase in firearm purchases. As previously mentioned, the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of homicide by 500%. While we do not have the data needed to establish a direct connection between an increase in firearm sales and an increase in firearm homicides, this is a concerning correlation.
82.7% of intimate partner homicides involving a firearm between 2018 and 2022 were perpetrated by males.
Throughout the five year study, males were consistently more likely to shoot their current or former intimate partner than females. Females were the shooter in only 17.3% of incidents. These findings mirror global trends that indicate that nearly 90% of all murders are committed by males.
For incidents in which the age of the shooter was identified, the majority (70%) of perpetrators of intimate partner homicides were between the ages of 25-54.
Meanwhile, young adults (ages 18-24) and older Americans (55+), were less likely to shoot and kill their current or former intimate partner.
The number of intimate partner homicides peak around major holidays, when individuals are more likely to be at home with their families.
As seen in Figure 4, the month with the greatest number of firearm-related intimate partner homicides occur in July and December. This is a trend seen across all domestic violence incidents. On average, police interventions related to domestic violence increase by 20% in the month of December.
There are a number of reasons that months with major holidays – like Independence Day and Winter Holidays – cause an increase in the number of firearm-related intimate partner homicides. A few include increased alcohol use, more time at home, and stress.
STATES WITH WEAK GUN LAWS HAVE A HIGHER NUMBER OF FIREARM-RELATED INTIMATE PARTNER HOMICIDES
The five states with the greatest number of intimate partner homicides involving a firearm are Texas (90), Florida (53), Georgia (38), Alabama (29), and Tennessee (29).
Under current federal law, those subject to domestic violence restraining orders and/or those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence are prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms and ammunition.
However, all five of these states do not require background checks to be conducted on private sales which make up 20% of all gun sales, including online sales, and sales at gun shows. This gap in the law creates a path for domestic abusers to avoid the Brady Background Check system and purchase firearms despite being prohibited.
Although federal law requires that those subjected to domestic violence restraining orders are required from possessing firearms and ammunition, there is no federal statute that requires them to surrender their firearms to law enforcement or transfer their firearms to a qualified individual. As of 2023, 22 states and DC now require those subjected to domestic violence restraining orders to surrender their firearms.
On average, states that do not require those subject to domestic violence restraining orders to surrender their firearms have nearly twice as many intimate partner homicides involving a firearm.
We must enforce and expand our current laws to keep Americans safe from domestic abusers, including expanding and strengthening background checks on gun sales, requiring those subject to domestic violence restraining orders to surrender their firearms, and establishing processes for doing so.
Since 1994, the federal government has prevented those subject to a qualifying domestic violence restraining order from purchasing firearms. In 1996, the law was expanded to include those who were convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from being able to purchase a firearm. However, up until 2022, those prohibited from purchasing a firearm because of domestic violence convictions were limited to domestic abusers who were married to, shared a child with, or were the parent or guardian of the individual involved in their conviction. In 2022, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act expanded individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes prohibited from purchasing firearms to include dating partners. We must continue strengthening our laws, not weakening them.
The Supreme Court must reverse the Fifth Circuit’s decision and keep guns out of the hands of those subject to a domestic violence restraining order. To do otherwise, would put the safety of domestic violence survivors, their families, and the American public at risk.