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Mar 06, 2017 3:25pm PST by Kristian J Berhost

Hey there reader, I hope you’re doing great.  Domestic violence prevention and gun laws are personal policies to me.  My mother Carolynn died in Florence, Arizona on February 13, 2009.  Early reports about her cause of death were uncertain but the county coroner ultimately decided she died from blunt force head trauma.  Several of my mom’s friends reported her death wasn’t just an accident: she might have suffered from domestic violence given the bruises they sometimes saw on her back, neck and shoulders.  Her death is still considered an open investigation.

California state legislators have accomplished a lot in terms of preventing domestic violence and gun violence since the 1990s.  I think if legislators in Arizona and every state for that matter adopted similar laws, my mom might be still be alive today.  In fact, I think California‘s domestic violence prevention and gun laws are a model for all states to emulate.

U.S. Domestic Violence And Gun Ownership Facts

Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1970, “The United States…has a history but not a tradition of domestic violence.”  Hofstadter noted how most of our domestic violence happened in urban areas and yet America’s gun laws reflect a rural, frontier lifestyle.

It seems rational to assume American legislators would pass strict gun laws to prevent domestic violence, especially for urban areas given 80.7 percent of the American population lives in cities and suburbs, where gun crimes are concentrated most.  Unfortunately, lawlessness and gun rights seem to be more common than gun restrictions.  This is because we have a history of resorting to violence to solve problems instead of refraining from it.

Domestic violence is so pervasive in the U.S., 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.  Firearms were the most commonly used weapon: 53 percent of all domestic violence attacks involved the use of a handgun and guns were 3.5 times more likely to be used to threaten or intimidate someone than to be used in self defense.  Here are some more quick facts about American domestic violence and gun violence;

  • Of the 2,000 domestic violence victims who die in the U.S. each year, 760 were married to the abuser and 80 percent of them were female.  Strangulation is a strong predictor of future female domestic violence death.
  • 76 percent of all homicide victims knew their attackers.  Women were more likely to be victims of violent crime by someone they knew, men were more likely to be victimized by strangers.  Women face the highest risk of being killed by their abuser when leaving or immediately after they left an abusive relationship.  The likelihood of a female domestic violence victim dying increased almost by a factor of 5 when the abuser had a gun.  68 percent of all homicides in the U.S. are committed with a firearm.
  • 68.7 percent of collateral domestic victim deaths–which included children, parents, siblings, friends or new partners of the victim–involved the use of firearms.  5 women are murdered by a gun owner in the U.S everyday.
  • American women were found to be 11 times more likely to be murdered by a gun owner than women in other high income countries.  More than half of all mass shootings began with or involved the shooting of an intimate partner or a family member.  Women and children made up only 15 percent and 7 percent of all gun homicide victims respectively but these 2 groups were overrepresented in mass shootings at a combined 64 percent from 2009 to 2015: 57 percent of mass shooters targeted family members or intimate partners before killing others.
  • States with high gun ownership rates have higher rates of domestic violence deaths when compared to states with lower gun ownership rates: one study found a 10 percent increase in female gun homicides was correlated to a 10.2 percent increase in state gun ownership rates.

National Domestic Violence Prevention Laws

Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The VAWA was the first national law regarding domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.  It provided federal resources to communities to curb domestic violence and sexual assault.

The law was reauthorized in 2000 and provided legal assistance to victims and expanded the definition of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes to include date violence and stalking.  It was reauthorized again in 2005 to meet the needs of a multilingual culture, enhanced domestic violence prevention programs, provided housing for victims and funded rape crisis centers.

It was reauthorized again in 2013 to provide lifesaving services for all victims of domestic violence including sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.  The scope of the 2013 expansion covered native born women, immigrants, LGBTQ victims, college students, young people and public housing residents.

The Family Violence Prevention And Services Act of 1984 is the federal funding source for domestic violence shelters and programs.  The FVPSA is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, it expired in 2008 but it was reauthorized in 2010 to include funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  The law expired again in 2015.

National Domestic Violence Prevention Law Analysis

The VAWA provided funding to police departments so they could create and staff domestic violence prevention departments.  500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges were trained on domestic violence issues each year as a result of the VAWA.  The VAWA also established the National Domestic Violence Hotline which has answered more than 3.8 million calls over the last 20 years.  Here are some more quick facts about the VAWA and FVPSA;

  • Fewer people are experiencing domestic violence, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67 percent from 1993 to 2010.  The rate of female intimate partner homicides decreased 35 percent from 1993 to 2007, the rate of male intimate partner homicides decreased 46 percent over the same period.
  • More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police.  Each state reformed its laws which previously treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape and each state passed laws making stalking a crime.
  • Each states authorized warrantless arrests in misdemeanor domestic violence cases where the responding officer determines whether probable cause exists.  And each state made it a crime to violate a civil protection order.
  • Many states have passed laws prohibiting polygraphing of rape victims.  35 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted laws addressing domestic, sexual violence and stalking in the workplace.
  • More than 2,000 domestic violence prevention agencies relied on funding from the FVPSA serve their clients, the federal budget for the FVSPA ranges between $130 to $175 million per year.

California State Facts

California is the most populous state in the Union with 39 million people.  And it has a huge economy: if it was its own country, it would be the 8th biggest economy in the world.  It also has the largest of 4 major U.S. ethnic populations;

“California has more whites, Latinos, Asians and American Indians than any other state,” the Census Bureau says, “and its combined nonwhite population – 61.5 percent of 39 million Californians – is the second highest of any state.”

“Latinos have become California’s largest ethnic group at 15 million, followed closely by single-race whites at 14.9 million. Although Hawaii is the nation’s only Asian-majority state, California has its largest Asian population, 6.3 million.”

State Domestic Violence Prevention Law Summary

State legislators implemented a series of domestic violence and firearm removal policies to protect victims from abusers beginning in January, 2000.  Legislators passed a gun removal law where law enforcement officers were required to remove firearms when responding to a domestic violence incident regardless if the gun was used in the incident or not and regardless if the suspect was arrested or not.

Law enforcement officers were also required to remove guns from a domestic violence incident if there was danger involved, regardless if there was a temporary or permanent protective order.  Law enforcement agencies were also ordered to retain seized firearms for a minimum of 48 hours if they believed returning the seized gun to the abuser would endanger the victim.  The law enforcement agency would also have to file a court hearing to determine whether the firearms should be returned to their owner.  After issuing a temporary restraining order and hearing, the court would then order the suspect to surrender their firearms to a law enforcement officer or sell them to a licensed firearms dealer within 24 hours.  The suspect would have to provide the court with proof of surrender within 48 hours of being served.

“In 2014, California became the first state in the nation to allow family members and intimate partners to directly petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a family member if they believe there is a substantial likelihood that the family member is a significant danger to himself or herself or others in the near future.”

State Domestic Violence Prevention Law Analysis

California domestic violence calls per year decreased by 14 percent from 181,362 in 2005 to 155,965 in 2014.  Domestic violence calls involving a firearm decreased 34 percent from 1,233 in 2005 to 813 in 2014.  And domestic violence incidents involving a weapon decreased 31 percent from 93,027 to 66,645 during the same period.

Using a spreadsheet, I organized the Center for Disease Control’s data on domestic violence by state for 2010, the last year in which data was available.  The data included categories for the percentage of women raped by any perpetrator, the percentage of women sexually assaulted but not raped by any perpetrator, meaning the victim knew the attacker, the percentage of men sexually assaulted but not raped by any perpetrator, the percentage of women stalked by any perpetrator, the percentage of women raped, physically assaulted or stalked by intimate an intimate partner and the percentage of men raped, physically assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner.

I totaled the state-rates for each category and divided by 6 to find the state average rate.  The results of the average were conclusive: California was better than average across all 6 categories and had an 8.3 percent lower domestic violence rate per 100,000 residents than the national domestic violence rate.  California had the 6th lowest domestic violence given the available data.  And the state’s lowest, best score was 20.3 percent lower than the national average in the “percentage of women raped by any perpetrator,” category.  But note, states which had incomplete data were not applied and were omitted from the ranking with an NA.  See the data here.  Also note, Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, New Mexico, South Dakota, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas had the highest domestic violence rates in 2014.

State Gun Law Summary

California law makers adopted an activist approach to public policy making and passed 11 gun restrictions in the 1990s and 2000s following the mass shooting in Stockton in 1989.  “Five children between 6 and 9 years old, all of them refugees from Southeast Asia, were killed and more than 30 people were wounded, about half of them critically, before the gunman shot himself to death.”

In 1994, state legislators prohibited individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning a firearm while the order was enforced.  In 1997, state legislators expanded the scope of the crime of carrying a loaded concealed firearm without a permit in motor vehicles to passengers.  The following year, manufacturers were further restricted to curb gun trafficking.

State law makers passed legislation prohibiting the manufacture and sale of handguns which lacked safety design standards in 1999.  They also required the U.S. Department of Justice to develop standards for firearm safety devices and prohibited individuals from purchasing more than 1 handgun in a 30 day period.  The state’s assault weapon ban was enhanced to a 1 feature test which made it more difficult for gun manufacturers to modify a banned weapon.

Legislators prohibited the sale and manufacturing of large capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds each in 2000.  The following year, the Handgun Safety Certificate Requirement was passed which required individuals to pass a written test and demonstrate safe handling practices before purchasing a handgun.  A state database was developed to record individuals who purchased multiple firearms the same year.

In 2003, law makers passed new restrictions on handgun models and required them to have “chamber load indicators” to prevent accidental shootings.  In 2004, the manufacture, sale and possession of military style 50 caliber guns were prohibited.  In 2007, new handgun models were mandated to be equipped with “microstamping” technology which imprinted identifying information on each cartridge case when the firearm is discharged.

Clerks were required retain handgun ammunition sales records in 2009.  Two years later, they were further required to retain rifle and shotgun sales records and individuals were prohibited from openly carrying unloaded handguns in public.  Domestic violence abusers were ordered to surrender their firearms when a protective order was served beginning in 2012 and the unloaded, open-carrying of long-guns was prohibited the same year.

The year after the San Bernardino mass shooting in 2015, law makers passed background checks on ammunition sales and created a new state database to record ammunition buyers.  Magazines which hold more than 10 rounds were also banned and the exchange of firearms between family members–who didn’t pass a background check–was prohibited.

State Gun Law Analysis 

State law makers implemented 11 comprehensive gun control policies after 5,424 Californians were killed by gunfire in 1993.  By 2013, the state’s firearm death total fell to 2,929, a 56.6 percent decline, 29.9 percent lower than the national average decline.  To be fair, the state’s population increased from 30 million to 37 million over the same period.  But today, California has the reputation of being the strictest gun law state in the country.

While national gun death rates fell during the 1990s and remained steady from 2000 to 2016, California’s gun death rate was 20 percent lower in 2016 than it was in 2000.  And this decrease accelerated from 1,878 in 2005 to 1,233 in 2014, a difference of 34 percent.  California had the 8th lowest rate of gun death rate the same year.  Gun ownership in California is just 20.1 percent, which is nearly 31 percent lower than the national gun ownership rate of 29.1 percent.

Prevention Is Paramount

Critics might argue more women should own more guns so they can defend themselves from domestic abusers: 56 percent of female gun owners believe owning a gun makes them safer.  But research suggests when a woman owns a gun, her chances of dying increased as a result.

Researchers analyzed data from 1991 to 1996 and concluded the mortality rate for women who owned a gun was twice the rate of women who didn’t.  They also found female gun owners were fifteen times more likely to die of firearm suicide than women who didn’t own guns.  Researchers at Harvard University agree, more guns equal more homicides.

Critics might also argue California’s domestic violence prevention and gun laws had nothing to do with the decrease in California domestic violence and gun violence rates, these two subjects decreased on their own because of a growing economy, employment, convicts were incarcerated and VAWA was passed in 1993.  There might be something to this point since fewer people are experiencing domestic violence today.

But this post hoc ergo proper hoc type criticism doesn’t negate the fact that domestic violence is 8.3 percent lower in California than the national average.  And it also doesn’t negate the fact that California has a gun homicide rate 29.9 percent lower than the national average.  I bet it was the combination of comprehensive domestic violence prevention and gun laws passed during the 1990s and 2000s which made California so successful in decreasing both of these crimes.

Critics might further argue, there are approximately as many guns as there are people in the U.S. and the vast majority of of Americans aren’t abused by gun owners each year, therefore domestic violence by guns isn’t a problem.  But to these critics, I’d argue, gun owners don’t have to actually abuse anyone for them to feel frightened, intimidated: one study found just knowing there is a firearm in the home is enough to make someone feel threatened.

Researchers measured the average gun ownership rate by state from 1981 to 2013 and found Wyoming had the highest rate at 73 percent.  They suggested, if Wyoming’s gun ownership rate decreased from 73 percent to 40 percent, there would be a 33 percent decrease in the murder rate among women.  This means, “the rate of female non-stranger homicide in a state can be predicted well simply by using the prevalence of firearm ownership in that state,” the authors wrote.

Experts often call domestic homicides the most predictable and preventable of all homicides because of the warning signs: 70 percent of the women who were killed by their partners were also abused by the same person before their deaths. “If we want to dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings, we could pay a lot more attention to domestic violence at an earlier stage,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Network To End Domestic Violence.

Public Policy Recommendation: Domestic Violence Prevention

We’d be smart to continue developing, funding and studying domestic violence prevention programs.  Let’s foster programs that worked, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline and increase funding for them.  The federal government spends approximately $130 million per year on domestic violence prevention via the FVPSA, it should be increased until we reach the point where we have no return on the investment.

Let’s also prevent people from becoming domestic abusers in the first place by teaching adolescents how to respect others and to treat people how they want to be treated when they become adults.  This means teaching young men how to communicate effectively and express their emotions without becoming aggressive.  We should “raise boys and men so they know it’s fine to cry and to show fear or other ‘weakness,’ and that expressing anger is not the only acceptable emotion for males,” said Nancy Lemon, a law lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.  According to Lemon, those most likely to become domestic abusers as adults are the ones who were victims of or witnesses to domestic violence as kids.

Furthermore, we need to make the penalties for domestic violence more consistent and firm.  Athletes, celebrities and musicians seem to not be held to the same standard as everyone else when it comes to domestic violence, take Ray RiceTom Sizemore and Chris Brown as examples.  I think incarceration, fines, probation, restraining orders, community service and counseling, without exceptions would be effective in curbing domestic violence.

We also need to change how family courts handle domestic violence cases, using a different judge to hear the divorce and another to hear the criminal domestic violence case.  Victims often have to adapt to multiple judges, each with a different process and courtroom.  And divorce judges might not hear information about domestic violence, and vice versa which only complicates matters.  We’d be smart to have one judge per criminal domestic violence hearing, divorce, child custody, etc.

Law makers, remember, women vote more than men do.  Therefore, it’s in your interest to help low income women become economically independent so they can leave an abusive relationship if they’re in one.

  • Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 but “At the median, women’s hourly wages are only 83 percent of men’s hourly wages.”  The income gap is worse for women who are also minorities, “Black men’s average hourly wages went from being 22.2 percent lower than those of white men in 1979 to being 31 percent lower by 2015.  For women, the wage gap went from 6 percent in 1979 to 19 percent in 2015.”
  • Increasing the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 “would boost wages for one-fourth of the workforce, or 35 million working people—56 percent of whom are women.”  Increasing and eventually eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers, currently just $2.13 per hour would boost wages and stabilize incomes for millions of service workers.  “Two-thirds of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts.  At the median, women tipped workers make $10.07 per hour, while men make $10.63, including tips.”
  • Providing families with paid family medical leave will enable them to take paid time off for the arrival of a child, serious health condition affecting themselves or a relative, without forcing them to choose between work and family.  “Only 12 percent of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave.”
  • Increasing the salary minimum to $50,440 per year “would directly benefit 13.5 million salaried workers—the majority of whom are women—by guaranteeing them the right to receive time-and-a-half pay for work beyond 40 hours each week that is now provided at no cost to the employer.”
  • Providing public healthcare, daycare, affordable public university tuition and housing subsidies would help women become economically independent too.

Public Policy Recommendation: Gun Violence Prevention

The absence of information about gun ownership precludes law enforcement officers and public policy makers from curbing domestic violence and gun violence.  Police officers don’t know whom owns a firearm, the Firearm Owner Protection Act prohibited the federal government from establishing a national database to record gun ownership information in 1986.  And current information about who owns guns is inadequate: not every state has a gun registry or gun sale database like California and some of those databases are incomplete.  Congress would be smart to repeal the FOPA and pass a national law requiring each state to develop gun ownership and sales databases.

The Supreme Court decided domestic abusers were prohibited from owning guns in the Voisine case in 2016.  Congress would be smart to build on this decision and pass a national policy to bar stalkers and people subject to restraining orders from owning guns as well.  They could go further and require all records of prohibited abusers, stalkers and people subject to restraining orders be provided to the FBI’s NICS system.

State law makers should also require a background check for all gun sales.  Sure, the Brady Law required gun dealers to check the background of each buyer.  But if the buyer’s background didn’t clear within 3 business days, the sale could still be completed.  Making the 3 day period indefinite until the buyer’s background check clears would ensure guns stay out of the hands of gun buyers who also happen to be domestic abusers.

State legislators should also pass permit to purchase laws before all gun sales to ensure the buyer’s background is checked during private sales.  When Connecticut law makers passed a permit to purchase gun law, gun homicides decreased by 40 percent from 1996 to 2005.  Missouri had the opposite effect: when their permit to purchase gun law was repealed in 2007, gun homicides increased by 23 percent.

Finally, state legislators and the national congress would be smart to expand funding for gun control research at the CDC.  Congress stripped $2.6 million of funding from the CDC in 1996, “Congress then passed a measure drafted by then-Rep. Jay Dickey, R-GA, forbidding the CDC to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control.”  Repealing this law and funding the study of gun control is critical to reducing domestic violence and gun violence.  States should fund public universities to study gun control: California law makers appropriated $5 million to the University of California to study the subject in 2016.


California legislators took an activist public policy approach to preventing domestic violence and gun violence in the 1990s and 2000s.  Their policies were effective in decreasing both crimes.  If similar domestic violence and gun violence prevention laws were implemented at the national and state levels, they would likely be successful given California’s size and diverse population demographics.  This of course would require the national Congress and state Congresses to adopt the same activist role in public policy making to prevent more domestic violence and gun violence from happening in the future.  The sooner legislators do this, the better.