Firearm restrictions for people convicted of domestic violence

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

Federal law prohibits the purchase and possession of firearms by people convicted in any court of a domestic violence misdemeanor. Federal law also prohibits firearm purchase and possession by people subject to a final domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) by an intimate partner. States can enact laws matching the federal law and can further extend restrictions to those subject to temporary restraining orders, dating partners who are subject to a DVRO and/or a domestic violence misdemeanor, or people convicted of stalking offense misdemeanors. Some states also mandate the surrender of firearms from people subject to domestic violence protective orders, or the confiscation of firearms by law enforcement officers at the scene of a domestic violence incident1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced intimate partner violence

  • Reduced homicide

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced mass shootings

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated some evidence.

There is some evidence that restricting firearm access by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) decreases intimate partner homicides, including firearm-related intimate partner homicides3, 4, 5, 6. Such restrictions are stronger when combined with the mandatory relinquishment of firearms3, 5 or when restrictions are extended to dating partners and temporary restraining orders3. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects7.

Overall, more extensive firearm restrictions for people convicted of domestic violence have a greater impact on reducing intimate partner homicides than less strict prohibitions3, 8. States that require firearm background checks for restraining orders appear to have lower rates of overall firearm homicides than states without such checks9. Prohibiting firearm possession by people subject to DVROs can decrease firearm suicide rates10. A federal law restricting firearm access by people subject to a domestic violence misdemeanor can reduce firearm homicides against female intimate partner victims and male victims of child abuse11. State laws that prohibit firearms for people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors do not appear to reduce intimate partner homicides3, 6; however, such laws appear to reduce homicides against pregnant and postpartum women when combined with mandatory firearm relinquishment12. State firearm restrictions for people convicted of DVROs or domestic violence misdemeanors, combined with firearm relinquishment, may decrease rates of firearm injury-related in-patient hospitalizations13. Such restrictions can reduce firearm-related intimate partner homicides for white victims, but not for Black victims14.

A North Carolina-based study suggests that the severity of intimate partner violence increases when domestic violence perpetrators have access to firearms15. A California-based study indicates that handgun purchasers with a history of intimate partner violence are more likely to be arrested for subsequent intimate partner violence than those without such histories16. State laws that allow law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms at the scene of domestic violence do not appear to reduce intimate partner homicides3, 4, 6. A Philadelphia-based study found that subsequent reports of domestic violence increase after firearms are confiscated from a domestic violence scene, suggesting that victims may be more willing to seek police assistance when a firearm has already been removed from the home17.

Available evidence regarding the impact of firearm restrictions for people convicted of domestic violence on workplace homicides is somewhat mixed; while one study suggests that expanding domestic violence-related firearm restrictions can reduce rates of workplace homicides18, another found no impact19. Researchers suggest that firearm restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence have the potential to prevent mass shootings20, 21, 22. However, the association between domestic violence-related firearm restriction laws and mass shootings that include a victim of domestic violence is unclear23.

Experts recommend developing clear, consistent protocols to implement and enforce policies for firearm searches, removal, and disposal; building strong partnerships between the courts and agencies to facilitate intimate partner violence case reviews and information sharing; and coordinating with partners (e.g., mental and physical health care professionals, social services providers, and police departments) to conduct assessments and develop safety plans with victims24, 25, 26, 27. Law enforcement officers should use proactive, plain language explanations of restraining orders that include firearm restrictions as a way to increase compliance with restrictions among those accused of domestic violence28.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: supported by some evidence.

There is some evidence that restricting firearm purchases and possession by people convicted of intimate partner violence has the potential to decrease disparities in firearm-related intimate partner homicides. Available evidence illustrates that restricting firearm access by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) can decrease rates of firearm homicides against female intimate partners6. States that restrict firearm access by people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and require the surrender of their firearms have lower rates of homicides against pregnant and postpartum women than states that do not12.

Overall, 80% of the victims of firearm-related intimate partner homicides are women. American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Latina women are more likely to be fatally shot and killed by an intimate partner; compared to white women, American Indian/Alaska Native women have a nearly four times greater risk of being fatally shot and killed by an intimate partner, and Black women are three times as likely to be victims of firearm homicide committed by their partners29. People with low socio-economic status, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations are also exposed to intimate partner violence at a greater rate30. Additional research is needed to explore how firearm restrictions impact disparities in intimate partner violence between diverse subpopulations, including groups with different levels of income or education, and same-sex couples31.

What is the relevant historical background?

The first gun control policy was passed by a European colony in 1619, which banned the sale or gift of firearms to Native Americans. This was a controversial policy because firearm trading was profitable and Native Americans were sometimes allies against colonial adversaries32. The addition of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution in 1791 included the Second Amendment, which states that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”33. The varied interpretations of the Second Amendment have shaped firearm regulations ever since it was ratified.

Through the early 1930s, there was wide variation in state gun laws: major forms of state gun policies addressed hunting, militia, and gun carrying restrictions, with less attention given to firearm sale bans32. The National Firearms Act was passed in 1934 to control firearm transactions and possession of unregistered firearms, in recognition of increased crime rates and public safety concerns34. Since then, federal firearm legislation has moved forward in regulating firearm owners and dealers, but there have still been gaps in gun laws. For example, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) created a federal firearm licensing system for dealers and prohibited firearm sales and possession for felons and other unlawful individuals; yet some restrictions were removed by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 198634, 35. The Brady Bill in 1993 established a background check system for gun purchases36; however, loopholes remained that allowed prohibited purchasers to access firearms. Loopholes include allowing firearm access for dating partners that have been subjected to restraining orders or for those who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses1, 37, 38, 39. Gun rights advocacy groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have been successful at lobbying against firearm regulations and encouraging states to pass preemption laws that prevent local governments from implementing local gun control policies36, 40.

Although the health impacts of firearms are well documented, Congress prohibited federal research dollars from being used for gun violence and injury prevention research from 1996-202041. In 2021, approximately 48,900 people died from firearm-related injuries in the U.S., including firearm homicides (43%) and suicides (54%). Firearm homicide and suicide rates have increased over time; 80% of total homicides and 55% of total suicides in 2021 involved a firearm42.

Equity Considerations
  • Who is at a greater risk of intimate partner violence and/or homicide in your community? How can firearm restriction laws improve safety for domestic violence victims and those at risk?
  • What are objective, nondiscriminatory ways to enforce firearm restriction laws? How can the courts, law enforcement, and relevant agencies and organizations work together to develop clear protocols to implement these laws? What resources and trainings are needed to educate staff?
  • Are there resources available for victims of domestic violence in your community? Can victims access them before legal action has been taken?
Implementation Examples

As of 2022, 33 states and Washington, D.C. prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms by people who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and 17 states require those convicted to surrender their firearms. Firearm restrictions for people with final domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) exist in 30 states and Washington, D.C. Eleven states extend firearm restrictions to temporary DVROs, while 30 states and Washington, D.C. extend restrictions to dating partners with either a convicted domestic violence misdemeanor or a final restraining order1.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

GLC-DV Firearms - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Domestic violence & firearms (DV firearms).

Everytown-State gun law strength - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). 2022 Everytown gun law rankings.

RAND-Firearm law database - Cherney S, Morral AR, Schell TL, Smucker S, Hoch E. RAND state firearm law database. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2022.

Footnotes

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 GLC-DV Firearms - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Domestic violence & firearms (DV firearms).

2 Zeoli 2019a - Zeoli AM, Frattaroli S, Roskam K, Herrera AK. Removing firearms from those prohibited from possession by domestic violence restraining orders: A survey and analysis of state laws. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2019;20(1):114-125.

3 Zeoli 2018 - Zeoli AM, McCourt A, Buggs S, et al. Analysis of the strength of legal firearms restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence and their associations with intimate partner homicide. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2018;187(11):2365-2371.

4 Zeoli 2010 - Zeoli AM, Webster DW. Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large U.S. cities. Injury Prevention. 2010;16(2):90-95.

5 Diez 2017 - Diez C, Kurland RP, Rothman EF, et al. State intimate partner violence-related firearm laws and intimate partner homicide rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2017;167:536-543.

6 Vidgor 2006 - Vigdor ER, Mercy JA. Do laws restricting access to firearms by domestic violence offenders prevent intimate partner homicide? Evaluation Review. 2006;30(3):313-346.

7 RAND-Gun policy research - RAND Corporation. Gun policy research review.

8 Gollub 2019 - Gollub EL, Gardner M. Firearm legislation and firearm use in female intimate partner homicide using National Violent Death Reporting System data. Preventive Medicine. 2019;118:216-219.

9 Sen 2012 - Sen B, Panjamapirom A. State background checks for gun purchase and firearm deaths: An exploratory study. Preventive Medicine. 2012;55(4):346-350.

10 Kawano 2023 - Kawano B, Agarwal S, Krishnamoorthy V, et al. Restrictive firearm laws and firearm-related suicide. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 2023;236(1):37-44.

11 Raissian 2016 - Raissian KM. Hold your fire: Did the 1996 Federal Gun Control Act expansion reduce domestic homicides? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2016;35(1):67-93.

12 Wallace 2021 - Wallace ME, Vilda D, Theall KP, Stoecker C. Firearm relinquishment laws associated with substantial reduction in homicide of pregnant and postpartum women. Health Affairs. 2021;40(10):1654-1662.

13 Neufeld 2022 - Neufeld MY, Poulson M, Sanchez SE, Siegel MB. State firearm laws and nonfatal firearm injury-related inpatient hospitalizations: A nationwide panel study. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2022;92(3):581-587.

14 Wallin 2022 - Wallin MA, Holliday CN, Zeoli AM. The association of federal and state-level firearm restriction policies with intimate partner homicide: A re-analysis by race of the victim. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2022;37(17-18):NP16509-NP16533.

15 Kafka 2021 - Kafka JM, Moracco KE, Williams DS, Hoffman CG. What is the role of firearms in nonfatal intimate partner violence? Findings from civil protective order case data. Social Science and Medicine. 2021;283:114212.

16 Tomsich 2022 - Tomsich EA, Schleimer J, Wright MA, et al. Intimate partner violence and subsequent violent offending among handgun purchasers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2022;37(23-24):NP21447-NP21475.

17 Small 2019 - Small DS, Sorenson SB, Berk RA. After the gun: Examining police visits and intimate partner violence following incidents involving a firearm. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2019;42:591-602.

18 Sabbath 2020 - Sabbath EL, Hawkins SS, Baum CF. State-level changes in firearm laws and workplace homicide rates: United States, 2011 to 2017. American Journal of Public Health. 2020;110(2):230-236.

19 Doucette 2019 - Doucette ML, Crifasi CK, Frattaroli S. Right-to-carry laws and firearm workplace homicides: A longitudinal analysis (1992–2017). American Journal of Public Health. 2019;109(12):1747-1753.

20 Gold 2020 - Gold LH. Domestic violence, firearms, and mass shootings. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 2020;48(1):35-42.

21 Zeoli 2020 - Zeoli AM, Paruk JK. Potential to prevent mass shootings through domestic violence firearm restrictions. Criminology and Public Policy. 2020;19(1):129-145.

22 Geller 2021 - Geller LB, Booty M, Crifasi CK. The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014–2019. Injury Epidemiology. 2021;8:38.

23 Webster 2020 - Webster DW, McCourt AD, Crifasi CK, Booty MD, Stuart EA. Evidence concerning the regulation of firearms design, sale, and carrying on fatal mass shootings in the United States. Criminology & Public Policy. 2020;19:171-212.

24 Frattaroli 2021 - Frattaroli S, Zeoli AM, Webster DW. Armed, prohibited and violent at home: Implementation and enforcement of restrictions on gun possession by domestic violence offenders in four U.S. localities. Journal of Family Violence. 2021;36:573-586.

25 Kafka 2022 - Kafka JM, Moracco KE, Williams DS, Hoffman CG. Disarming abusers: Domestic violence protective order (DVPO) firearm restriction processes and dispositions. Criminology and Public Policy. 2022;21(2):379-404.

26 Logan 2022 - Logan T, Lynch K, Walker R. Exploring control, threats, violence and help-seeking among women held at gunpoint by abusive partners. Journal of Family Violence. 2022;37:59-73.

27 Valente 2021 - Valente R, Graber R. Firearms, domestic violence, and dating violence: Abusers’ use of firearms violence to exert coercive control and commit intimate partner homicides. In: Handbook of Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Across the Lifespan. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2022:2815-2837.

28 Blackwatters 2023 - Blackwatters CR, Kafka JM, Moracco KE, Williams DS, Corbo AM. ‘Hey buddy, give me your guns:’ Sheriffs’ officers’ strategies to ensure compliance with domestic violence protective order firearm restrictions. Journal of Family Violence. 2023;38(3):557-569.

29 Everytown-IPV - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). Guns and violence against women: America’s uniquely lethal intimate partner violence problem.

30 CAP-Edmund 2022 - Edmund M. Weak gun laws are harmful to women and survivors of domestic violence. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress (CAP); 2022.

31 Goodyear 2020 - Goodyear A, Rodriguez M, Glik D. The role of firearms in intimate partner violence: Policy and research considerations. Journal of Public Health Policy. 2020;41:185-195.

32 Spitzer 2017 - Spitzer R. Gun law history in the United States and Second Amendment rights. Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017;80(2):55-83.

33 CONAN-Second Amendment - The Constitution Annotated (CONAN). Second Amendment: Right to bear arms.

34 ATF-NFA - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). National Firearms Act (NFA).

35 US DOJ-Gun violence 2001 - U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ). Gun violence reduction: National integrated firearms violence reduction strategy. Appendix C. History of federal firearms laws in the United States. 2001.

36 GLC-Gun lobby - Giffords Law Center (GLC). The gun lobby.

37 Everytown-Loopholes - Everytown. Undeniable: How long-standing loopholes in the background check system have been exacerbated by COVID-19. 2021.

38 Everytown-Prohibition - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). Prohibit people with dangerous histories from having guns.

39 CAP-Parsons 2020 - Parsons C, Bhatia R. Dangerous gaps in gun laws exposed by the coronavirus gun sale surge. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress (CAP); 2020.

40 Montez 2020 - Montez JK. US state polarization, policymaking power, and population health. Milbank Quarterly. 2020;98(4):1033-1052.

41 APA-Weir 2021 - Weir K. A thaw in the freeze on federal funding for gun violence and injury prevention research. American Psychological Association (APA). 2021.

42 Pew-Gramlich 2023 - Gramlich J. What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center; 2023.

Date Last Updated