Opinion: Banning domestic abusers from owning guns makes all of us safer

This Supreme Court case and the resulting decision is not about the right to gun ownership — it’s about protecting victims of domestic violence.

On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that: “An individual found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment.” The current federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), prohibits individuals under an active domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms. The United States v. Rahimi ruling stated that this law, which domestic violence advocates believe protects survivors of interpersonal violence from ongoing threats of implied and implicit gun violence, will remain constitutional under the Second Amendment.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition (UDVC) has followed this case and joined coalitions nationwide to submit a brief to the Supreme Court. We urged the Court to recognize the specific dangers domestic violence abusers with access to guns pose to their victims and to our communities. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Kagan in her U.S. v. Rahimi concurrence, highlighted alarming data: “A woman who lives in a house with a domestic abuser is five times more likely to be murdered if the abuser has access to a gun.”

This type of gun violence is rarely confined to only the person involved in the relationship. The Justices go on to highlight that the danger abusers pose extends far beyond their target victim: “Because domestic violence is rarely confined to the intimate partner that receives the protective order, the government’s interest extends even further. In roughly a quarter of cases where an abuser killed an intimate partner, the abuser also killed someone else, such as a child, family member or roommate.”

Sadly, this scenario has played out in Utah, where entire families have become victims of gun violence in a domestic violence homicide/suicide.

Firearm prohibitions for abusers make all of us safer. We are, therefore, relieved that this is the direction the Court chose to take.

What UDVC can’t stress enough is that this case and the resulting decision is not about the right to gun ownership. This ruling upholds the belief long expressed by domestic violence survivors and advocates that firearms in the possession of anyone who uses power and control in their personal relationships can be a deadly combination. The first-hand accounts from survivors and their loved ones demonstrate how abusive partners use guns to control, intimidate, terrorize and often kill their victims and how protective orders are important for survivor safety. Guns further exacerbate the power and control dynamic commonly used by abusers to inflict emotional abuse and exert coercive control over their victims.

So if this case isn’t about the right to gun ownership, then what is it about? United States v. Rahimi is about prioritizing the safety of victims of domestic violence and attempting to reduce future harm by a perpetrator who has access to firearms. Utah law recognizes the seriousness of the danger that a domestic violence victim is in when they obtain a protective order, and that limiting access to firearms as much as possible during this time is critical.

While intimate partner violence involving guns presents a bleak problem, research shows that federal and state policies that disrupt abusers’ access to guns can save lives. Studies have shown that this prohibition on gun ownership has effectively reduced domestic violence homicide rates by 27%. We appreciate that the Supreme Court has upheld these hard-fought protections in state protective order laws that address this very real danger.

In Utah, domestic violence perpetrators are not allowed access to a firearm while under an order of protection. The ruling upholds the steps that the state currently takes regarding firearms and protective orders. Utah is one of 32 states that currently follow this strategy to increase the safety of survivors.

Although civil protection orders prohibiting abusers from possessing a firearm are not perfect, they are still important protections for victims of domestic violence. Civil protection orders are a critical piece of safety for many domestic violence survivors around the country. The federal firearms restrictions — and state laws modeled after them — that apply to respondents of protection orders save lives. We know that more must be done to enforce these life-saving firearms prohibitions. UDVC will continue to press forward and build on this decisive ruling to ensure that gun laws in domestic violence situations are informed by the experiences of survivors and all available data.

Kimmi Wolf serves as the communication specialist at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Kimmi Wolf serves as the communication specialist at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. In this role, she frequently navigates the critical task of interpreting and clarifying news related to domestic violence, as well as explaining its relevance to the residents of Utah.

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