Federal loophole allows convicted abusers to possess firearms

Dating partners, not spouses or ex-spouses, are responsible for the majority of intimate partner homicides. What is important about this fact, aside from the devastating reality that women are being killed by their partners with increased and alarming frequency, is that abusive dating partners are not prohibited federally from owning a firearm.

Only a narrow definition of abusers can be convicted of misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) under federal law, including 1) a current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim; 2) a person with whom the victim shares a child in common; 3) a person who was living with or had lived with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or 4) a person who was or had been similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian.

In other words, it’s legal for some dating partners to own firearms and ammunition, and it’s these dating partners causing the highest number of intimate partner homicides.

“We have a responsibility to provide protections and laws for victims of domestic violence,” says Ruth Glenn, NCADV executive director. “Our responsibility is to reassure domestic and dating violence victims that we are doing all we can to ensure that abusers have limited access to guns and that systems will enforce accountability. We must recognize that domestic violence and stalking are precursors to homicide, and we must understand that dating violence is a thing—a real thing—in which far too many perpetrators are not held accountable.” FBI statistics indicate that the federal firearms prohibitions against persons convicted of a MCDV make it more difficult for abusers to acquire guns and ammunition legally. MCDV was the third most common reason for denial of an application to purchase a firearm from 1998 to 2014, behind felony convictions and outstanding warrants. Over 112,000 people were denied the purchase of firearms during this period as a result of background checks.

A change in federal law to include dating partners may not solve the homicide problem entirely, but it would create another barrier to firearm access that could prevent some tragedies.

In 2008, Christin Stock, a 35-year-old mother of two from Washington, was killed by her ex-boyfriend in a murder-suicide five days after she petitioned for a protective order against him. In 1995, her ex-boyfriend had previously been convicted of stalking another woman; however, this prior conviction and the ongoing protective order process did not legally prevent him from buying the two firearms, stun gun and ammunition he used to kill her and himself.

In 2010, 58-year-old Flores from Colorado was shot to death by her next-door neighbor in a murder-suicide, just two weeks after he had been arrested for stalking. Flores had filed for a temporary restraining order against him immediately after his arrest, fearing he would kill her.

The same loophole exists with federal protection order laws, where abusive dating partners subject to a protection order may be able to possess firearms. Some states have taken matters into their own hands by bolstering local laws to include dating partners as a type of domestic violence offender, to offer protections to family members in addition to the victim, and to require the surrender of weapons and firearms among other measures.

For more information about domestic violence and firearms, contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 800-903-0111, or visit them online at bwjp.org.