April 7, 2020 Press Releases

COVID-19 Threatens Safety of Survivors of Domestic Violence

Increase in gun purchases, social distancing, and other stressors increase risk of domestic violence homicides in Washington state 

SEATTLE, WA – As COVID-19 upends daily life in Washington state and across the country, victims of domestic violence are at a heightened risk of gun violence. The guidance designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus—remain at home as much as possible and limit contact with people outside your household—paired with social isolation, financial pressures, and uncertainty caused by this disruption increase the threat of domestic violence. At the same time, people across the country, including many first-time buyers, are panic-buying firearms and ammunition. 

Domestic violence and firearms are a deadly combination. More guns in the hands of domestic abusers will mean more domestic violence homicides. Firearms are the weapon of choice for domestic violence homicide. And research shows that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 400 percent. In Washington, more than 50,000 domestic violence incidents are reported annually. 

Already there have been reports of domestic violence homicides related to coronavirus. On March 30, 2020, a Pennsylvania man who had recently lost his job and become despondent over the pandemic shot his longtime girlfriend and himself. On April 4, 2020 an Illinois man, who reportedly thought he had COVID-19, shot and killed a woman and then himself.  

In Seattle, 911 calls for domestic violence-related cases have increased as calls to domestic violence hotlines have decreased. In an effort to adapt to the current situation, King County has begun processing Domestic Violence Protection Orders online

One of the surest ways to reduce gun deaths is to disarm domestic abusers. This is as important as ever as coronavirus disrupts normal routines. Washington state has led the way in passing policies that reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Outlined below are five policies designed to address the deadly intersection of gun violence and domestic violence in Washington state. 

Victim Protection (HB 1840)
This law helps keep victims safe by ensuring that individuals subject to domestic violence and other protection orders surrender their firearms if the court feels they pose a threat. This law led to the creation of the first-of-its-kind Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit (RDVFEU), a multi-disciplinary unit dedicated to firearm surrender in Seattle and King County. In its first year of operation, the unit seized 466 firearms in King County. The RDVFEU has served as a model for counties across the state and country working to better enforce firearm surrender laws. 

Expanded Background Checks (Initiative 594)
Initiative 594 requires background checks on all gun sales, closing a deadly loophole that allowed prohibited purchasers to avoid background checks by buying firearms through “private sellers” at gun shows, on the internet, and elsewhere. Nationally, one in nine background check denials are domestic violence related. Ensuring background checks are required for all firearm sales and transfers is crucial to keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Law Enforcement and Victim Notification (HB 1501)
This law helps keep our communities safe by creating stronger enforcement when a prohibited person illegally tries to purchase a firearm. It also requires notification of law enforcement and victims when felons, domestic abusers, and other ineligible people illegally attempt to purchase guns. This gives survivors an opportunity to proactively take steps to keep themselves and their families safe. Washington was the first state in the country to notify victims when an illegal attempt takes place.

Law Enforcement and Victim Safety (SHB 1225) 
The most dangerous time for victims of domestic abuse is at the end of a relationship or when a report is made. Domestic violence calls are also the most dangerous calls law enforcement officers can take. This law protects law enforcement and victims from gun violence by empowering law enforcement to help prevent domestic violence incidents from turning deadly by removing firearms from the scene of a domestic violence arrest.

Strengthening Protection Orders (SHB 1786)
This policy helps keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of violence by strengthening our protective order system and helping ensure firearms are secured from crisis situations.  

To learn more about domestic violence protection orders and firearm surrender laws in Washington state and across the country, visit DisarmDV.org. For more information about protection orders in King County, visit ProtectionOrder.org