Earlier this year, the Orange County Domestic Violence Death Review Team (DVDRT) published the Domestic Fatality Review, an analysis of more than a decade of domestic violence fatalities in Orange County, Calif. In the 11-year study, guns were found to be the leading cause of death and used in 72% of fatalities.
Orange County’s worst mass shooting was tied to domestic violence when Scott Dekraai killed eight people at a Seal Beach salon following a custody dispute with his ex-wife in 2011. Studies have shown that the majority of mass shootings in America are committed by individuals with histories of domestic violence. And while the passing of the bipartisan gun control bill will protect society from those convicted of domestic violence, many abusers who go on to commit gun violence never make it to a guilty verdict for domestic violence due to underreporting, lengthy court processes and other factors.
While the solution may not be black and white, one thing for certain is that the threat of gun usage is magnified in the domestic violence context – where access to firearms in the home increases fatality rates 500%.
As co-chair of the Death Review Study conducted in Orange County over the course of 11 years, I have seen firsthand how extensive gun violence is among domestic violence victims. We identify prevention and intervention methods that work. At the end of the day however, nothing is as powerful in creating change as legislation.
Expanding restrictions on gun purchases from people married to, living with or who have a child with a victim – to those who are in a dating relationship with a victim – will increase protections greatly. However, closing the boyfriend loophole won’t ensure that every abuser is unable to buy a gun. In fact, far from it.
Our Death Review Study showed that often there are warning signs before abuse turns fatal such as prior physical abuse, threats or jealousy. While these signs are identifiable, the behaviors tend to go unreported – meaning that victims are not protected by laws such as those being enacted through this new bill.
I applaud the House and Senate for taking action against gun violence in the United States and reaching this milestone agreement. However, to ensure that all abusers are unable to purchase guns, we must double down on our efforts to help victims get out of abusive situations and into safe environments and encourage them to report the abuse and press charges. Then it’s imperative that we provide the resources and support to help victims see their cases through to a conviction.