October 4, 2022 Press Releases

Domestic Violence And Firearms: A Deadly Combination

Highlighting Washington’s progress addressing the intersection of domestic violence and firearms in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

SEATTLE, WA – Every 14 hours, a woman is shot and killed by a spouse or intimate partner in the United States. In recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is highlighting the dangerous intersection of domestic violence and firearms as well as the significant progress Washington has made in recent years to protect survivors of domestic and abuse from gun violence. 

Domestic violence and firearms are a deadly combination. Firearms are the weapon of choice for domestic violence homicide. Research shows that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 400 percent. And contrary to gun lobby rhetoric, there is no evidence suggesting that arming a survivor of domestic violence increases their safety. Rather, all research suggests the presence of any gun makes them less safe.

The pandemic heightened the risks of domestic violence and gun violence. And over the last two years, homicides spiked nationally and in Washington state. However, in Washington, domestic violence homicides fell in 2021, a promising change attributable at least in part to significant advances made to both strengthen and improve the state’s protection order system. 

Thanks to focused and consistent action from legislators in recent years, Washington state has the strongest laws in the nation designed to reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. In the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, legislators took significant steps to make the protection order system more accessible, allowing more survivors the chance to utilize these lifesaving tools. Outlined below are seven policies that work to address the intersection of domestic violence and guns in Washington state. 

Expanding the Definition of Domestic Violence (HB 1901)

This bill, passed in 2022, builds on HB 1320 to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Washington’s civil protection order system. Notably, it expands the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control, a common and dangerous form of intimate partner violence. Coercive control often escalates into physical, even deadly, violence. And guns are often used as a tool of coercive control, adding weight to manipulative or threatening behavior. 

Enhancing Access, Modernizing, and Harmonizing Civil Protection Orders (HB 1320)

Passed in the 2021 legislative session, this sweeping legislation makes vital updates to Washington’s protection order system to help ensure access for the most vulnerable residents. Crucially, the bill makes permanent changes to allow for the remote filing of protection orders and remote hearings, improvements that were born out of the pandemic. 

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. It 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, which has served as a model for counties across the state and country working to better enforce firearm surrender laws. In its first year of operation, the unit seized 466 firearms in King County. 

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 is 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 requiring that law enforcement and victims be notified when felons, domestic abusers, and other ineligible people illegally attempt to purchase guns. This allows survivors to proactively take steps to keep themselves and their families safe. Washington was the first state in the country to pass a victim notification bill like this.

Law Enforcement and Victim Safety (SHB 1225) 

The most dangerous time for survivors 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 for law enforcement officers. This law protects law enforcement and victims from gun violence by empowering law enforcement to secure firearms directly 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 removed 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