Domestic violence protective orders are effective in reducing homicides

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Study: The Case for Domestic Violence Protective Order Firearm Prohibitions under Bruen

Domestic violence protective orders are associated with reductions in intimate partner homicides, and therefore serve as a critical tool for protecting victims and survivors, according to a federal policy review led by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Researchers from U-M and Johns Hopkins University recently reviewed firearm-related policies-specifically, domestic violence protective orders, or DVPOs-to determine historical context and constitutionality of the laws, as well as the role research plays in their development and implementation. Their findings were published earlier this month in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.

The connection between intimate partner violence and firearm violence has come under scrutiny recently as the Supreme Court heard arguments this session about the constitutionality of domestic violence protective order firearm prohibitions.

The case, U.S. v. Rahimi , will decide whether a 30-year-old federal law is consistent with the Second Amendment. The law (18 USC 922(g)(8)) prohibits the purchase and possession of firearms by persons subject to DVPOs issued after a hearing in which the respondent had the opportunity to participate.

Following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen , the government must bear the burden of proof to show modern laws "are relevantly similar to historical firearms laws” in order to be constitutional. In determining exactly how similar the laws must be, courts also consider whether a law-in this case, domestic violence protective order firearm prohibitions-addresses an "unprecedented societal concern.” The article discusses how the Rahimi case addresses both of these facets of the Bruen test.

"Intimate partner violence that involves a firearm has a significantly higher likelihood of ending in homicide, compared to intimate partner violence that involves other weapons,” said April Zeoli, associate professor of health management and policy at U-M’s School of Public Health and policy core director at U-M’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.

"Current data also suggests that prior domestic violence can foreshadow mass shooting events. The research is consistent in showing that these laws save lives.”

According to the review, prior to Bruen, research played a well-defined role in legal challenges to firearm safety statutes in identifying evidence-based solutions to one of this country’s leading causes of death. However, since Bruen, the use of research is more nuanced and requires a connection to an "underlying historical argument that implicates either the original plain text of the Second Amendment or the relevance of an historical analogue” to be fully relevant.

"Research shows that firearm-involved domestic violence is an ’unprecedented societal concern,’” said Kelly Roskam, director of law and policy at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"While intimate partner homicide with firearms was rare at the time of (America’s founding), it is all too common today. Firearms are now used in the majority of intimate partner homicides. This form of firearm-involved violence requires a multifaceted approach that includes updated and evidence-based legal strategies.”

Currently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow people to seek civil protection orders to protect against domestic violence. The vast majority of these states also prohibit such persons from purchasing and possessing firearms.

Research finds these laws are effective at reducing intimate partner homicide. The data suggests retaining these laws and improving their implementation in jurisdictions across the country can continue to save lives.

Written by Kate Barnes, U-M Office of the Vice President for Research