However, she said, if you looked at all homicides related to domestic violence, you would find that, on average, they represent 25% of all homicides in the United States. In 2019, the National Vital Statistics System reported 19,141 U.S. homicides.
This small subset of gun owners are taking a lot of lives, not only those of their partners and bystanders but also their own, Geller said.
“A lot of the perpetrators of these mass shootings, specifically of domestic violence mass shootings, did die by firearm suicide,” Geller said, “and so there is this relationship between suicidality and domestic violence and potentially mass shootings. ... We found that 55 perpetrators ... died during the incidents, and 71% of those (who) died, died by firearm suicides.”
All but one of the remaining shooters were shot and killed by law enforcement, often referred to as suicide by police, Geller said. The final perpetrator died as a result of an overdose.
The lethality of guns makes it more likely that people will die in crisis situations involving domestic violence, Geller said, and that is why her group advocates for removing guns from perpetrators of intimate partner violence whether they are married to their partner or not.
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and other research organizations recommend that states use a couple of tools to remove guns from people with a history of domestic violence: extreme risk protection orders, often called red flag laws, and a type of civil restraining order known as domestic violence protection orders.
While federal law prohibits anyone subject to a domestic violence order from buying or possessing a weapon, the statute does not address the temporary restraining orders initially issued to defendants in such cases. Victims face the highest risk of being killed or injured before a final order is granted, researchers have found.
California and other states have moved to close that gap in this protection by requiring surrender of firearms after a temporary permit has been issued and expanding the definition of intimate partners to those who have had a dating or engagement relationship.
And, extreme risk protection orders authorize certain individuals — employers, co-workers and teachers in the Golden State — to petition courts to remove firearms from individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.
“These incidences of domestic violence are usually not random,” Geller said. “Police have often been involved before these homicides occur. We need to talk about this issue more, focus more on solutions, and not just focus on the gun violence that’s already making the news.”
On its website, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers a safety plan with almost two dozen tips on how to help a person who is being abused. The tips start by advising: Don’t judge the victim. You are not in their situation.
Geller suggests those who want to help familiarize themselves with potential resources, then ask a person being abused whether they’re OK. Listen without judging, she said, and offer the individual one resource if they express a need for help.
Although women make up the majority of abuse victims, experts say, everyone should bear in mind that men, women and nonbinary individuals all may find themselves in such relationships. “One in four women and one in seven men will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetimes,” Geller said.
Geller said she hopes her team’s work shows people that domestic violence should no longer be considered a personal or private family matter: “This is an enormous public health crisis,” she said.
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