It’s called the Danger Assessment – and it’s one scary questionnaire. Developed by domestic violence experts at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, it asks 20 yes/no questions to determine the level of danger an abused woman has of being killed by her intimate partner.
Among the questions are:
•Have you left him after living together during the past year?
•Does he threaten to kill you?
•Do you believe he is capable of killing you?
•Does he own a gun?
The Danger Assessment has been in use for more than 25 years and there’s now an abbreviated version that helps police officers quickly determine whether a woman is in immediate danger.
The key question is, “Does he own a gun?” That’s because domestic abuse situations are five times more likely to be fatal if the abuser has access to a gun.
The FBI reports that nationally between 2003 and 2012, a third of all women who were murdered were killed by a male intimate partner. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Between 2001 and 2012, 6,410 women in the United States were killed by an intimate partner using a gun – more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
In Delaware, between 1996 and 2013, guns were used in 40 homicides of intimate partners, plus 13 homicides of other people in domestic-violence incidents (family members, children, and bystanders killed in these shootings). Guns were also used in 17 domestic violence-related suicides.
The bottom line: Reducing abusers’ access to guns will save women’s lives.
This is exactly what SB 83, which will have a hearing this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is intended to do. To close loopholes in existing protections for domestic abuse victims, it would:
• Prohibit gun possession or purchases by an abuser while he or she is subject to an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.
• Prohibit gun possession by a person convicted of misdemeanor dating-partner violence within the previous five years.
• Prohibit gun possession by a person convicted of a violent misdemeanor against a former cohabitant (person who lived with the perpetrator) during the previous five years.
• Ensure that domestic abusers surrender their guns by requiring them to inform the court that they have done so.
• Codify procedures for the surrender of weapons to law enforcement, including safe storage and eventual return when the person is no longer prohibited.
A 2014 report from the Delaware Domestic Violence Fatal Incident Review Team noted that almost half of intimate-partner homicides in Delaware occurred when the victim attempted to leave or had ended the relationship with the abuser. That’s why it makes sense to remove guns from these volatile situations immediately upon issuance of an ex parte order.
A domestic abuse victim who seeks a PFA order may be granted a temporary “ex parte” order to cover the period before a formal hearing – but only after a judge carefully evaluates the complainant’s sworn testimony and finds “immediate and present danger.” Generally ex parte orders last no more than 10 days, at which point a full hearing occurs. SB 83 would prohibit the purchase of a gun by someone during the period when he or she is subject to an ex parte PFA order.
Under current law, when PFA orders are issued, a court may order the abuser to surrender temporarily her/his firearms. SB 83 extends that protection to the critical period between the issuance of an ex parte order and the formal hearing of the complaint.
The ex parte process is meant to prevent a violent crime and does not usurp anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Nor does the surrender of guns violate the due-process rights of the abuser. Courts have repeatedly upheld the procedures for domestic violence protective orders, including ex parte orders, against due process challenges.
The bill also states that the abuser must turn over these weapons immediately upon the request of a law enforcement officer or, if no request is made, within 24 hours at a staffed police station. It establishes procedures to ensure these orders are followed by requiring the abuser to report to the court that they have surrendered any firearms and ammunition.
Keeping guns away from people who are guilty of domestic abuse is makes common sense. It won’t affect our Second Amendment rights, but it will help make our families and communities safer.
When a woman’s Danger Assessment is in the red zone – when she is at the greatest risk of lethal violence – she needs SB 83’s protections to help keep guns away from her abuser. We should close these loopholes to prevent gun-related death or injury at the most vulnerable times in an abused woman’s life.
A former counselor at CHILD Inc. and director of women’s affairs at the University of Delaware, Liane Sorenson served for 20 years as a Republican state legislator. She is a founder of the Delaware Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and currently chairs the board of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence Educational Fund.