October 1, 2021 Press Releases

Domestic Violence and Firearms Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility highlights the heightened risk of domestic violence and effective tools to prevent it

SEATTLE, WA – Every 16 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 increased risk of domestic violence during the pandemic as well as lifesaving policies designed to protect survivors of domestic abuse from gun violence. 

Pandemic-induced social isolation, financial hardship, and uncertainty increased the threat of domestic violence over the last 18 months. At the same time, gun sales surged across the country and our region, putting survivors of abuse at greater risk for gun violence. 

Recently-released homicide data paints a grim picture of 2020: Nationally, homicides were up 30 percent—the largest increase since record keeping began. In Washington, homicides spiked 46 percent. In both cases, the vast majority of homicides were carried out with a gun. As advocates feared, domestic violence homicides spiked in 2020 too. Data from the Washington Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows a 20 percent increase in domestic violence homicides last year. 

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 victim of domestic violence increases their safety. Rather, all research suggests the presence of any gun makes them less safe.

One of the surest ways to reduce gun deaths is to disarm domestic abusers. This is more important than ever as the coronavirus continues to disrupt normal routines, cutting survivors off from their normal support networks. Washington state has the strongest laws in the nation designed to reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Outlined below are six policies that work to address the intersection of domestic violence and guns in Washington state. 

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 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 requiring that law enforcement and victims be notified 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 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. For more information about protection orders in King County, visit ProtectionOrder.org