By Sam Cole
As the gun debate heats up in Colorado, it is victims of domestic violence who could be most affected by its outcome.
On Monday, a Senate panel approved a bill that would require domestic violence offenders to relinquish their guns if a restraining order had been filed against them.
When an offender has easy access to guns, there is nothing more dangerous for a victim. In a fit of rage or the heat of the moment, a woman’s life can end in an instant.
There are 300 million guns in our country, enough for every man, woman and child. Sadly, many of these guns are purchased for self-defense only to be used to intimidate, frighten and murder a family member.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, firearms were used in more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicides between 1990 and 2005. In fact, more than six times as many women are shot and killed by their intimate partners than are killed by strangers’ guns, knives or all other weapons combined, according to an analysis of 2010 homicide data by the Violence Policy Center.
Unlike poisoning, bodily force or other methods, these data reveal that firearms significantly increase the lethality of domestic violence.
Domestic violence offenders use their power and abusive tactics to control and intimidate victims. Even if an abuser has never threatened to shoot his intimate partner and is an otherwise law-abiding citizen, his actions can tell a different story.
In an abusive relationship, all an abuser has to do is tap on the gun strapped to his waist as if to say – I will shoot you if you leave. And unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in many cases.
When a victim attempts to leave, this is statistically the time that is most dangerous for her. That means guns that abusers are prohibited from possessing should be surrendered as soon as possible in order to increase victims’ safety.
Even with protection orders and other hurdles in place, some abusers will find a way to kill their victims. But these hurdles, including being required to relinquish guns, give victims precious time to seek other options for safety and develop a comprehensive safety plan. Also, such deterrents allow for a de facto cooling off period for the offender to re-consider his actions.
To improve a victim’s chances even more, requiring background checks for private sales (they already exist for sales from dealers) would close a gaping loophole affecting 40 percent of gun transactions. This would prevent offenders from acquiring new guns after being required to give up the old ones.
Allowing an abuser to have immediate access to lethal firepower is akin to giving drunk teenagers the keys to a Corvette. It is not in the best interest of public safety, victims or their children.
Sam Cole is community relations director for the Center on Domestic Violence at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.