Editorials

Want to save a woman’s life? Enforce gun restrictions on domestic abusers

A recent study finds that when domestic violence offenders must relinquish their guns, the risk that they will kill their partners goes down.
A recent study finds that when domestic violence offenders must relinquish their guns, the risk that they will kill their partners goes down. TNS

Kentucky has risen on one national ranking: women killed by men.

Kentucky ranked eighth in 2015, the first time since 2004 that we have been among the 10 states with the highest rates of women killed by men, reports the Violence Policy Center in its annual analysis of FBI homicide data.

In about two-thirds of the cases, intimate partners — husbands, boyfriends, exes — did the killing, in Kentucky and nationally.

More than half of the time — 76 percent in Kentucky — a gun was used to kill the woman.

That part isn’t news. It’s long been known that the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women — by 500 percent, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

To prevent intimate-partner violence from escalating into murder, seven states this year have restricted access to guns by domestic abusers. But not Kentucky.

Altogether 27 states have laws curtailing access to guns by domestic abusers. Of those, 17 states require them to surrender guns.

Federal law has long made gun possession or gun purchases a crime for someone who has been convicted of domestic violence or is subject to a domestic violence protective order. But without state or local backup, the federal laws are a toothless honor system that save no lives.

Lives are saved when guns are relinquished. Intimate partner homicide rates are almost 10 percent lower in states where domestic abusers who fall under the federal restrictions are required to relinquish firearms, a recent Boston University study found.

In Kentucky, judges have the option of requiring the surrender of firearms when issuing emergency protective or domestic violence orders, but practices vary.

In Lexington-Fayette County, deputies oversee the surrender of firearms when they serve protective orders. Family court judges require it and Sheriff Kathy Witt reports no problems enforcing it.

Like protective orders, gun restrictions are not perfect. But both are effective, according to the data. They prevent the escalation of violence, saving families heartbreak and saving taxpayers medical, incarceration and foster care costs.

Kentucky lawmakers should address the rising death toll in next year’s session by enacting the same sensible restrictions as other states. Sadly,our legislature would rather worship guns while proclaiming reverence for life.

Local jurisdictions can, and should, step up. Prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, victim’s advocates should use their authority and resources to deescalate domestic violence situations by removing firearms.

If anything, domestic violence killings are understated in the annual study, which is in its 20th year. Only cases in which one man kills one woman are analyzed, excluding multiple-victim cases. Fanning fears of a lone male attacking a vulnerable female promotes gun ownership by women, even though in Kentucky in 2015 just one of the reported homicides was a woman killed by a stranger. In fact, females living with a gun in the home are nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home, according to a 2003 study.

The analysis identified 36 females murdered by males in Kentucky in 2015 in single-victim, single-offender incidents — a rate of 1.60 per 100,000 women compared with a national rate of 1.12 per 100,000. Nationally, there were 1,686 females murdered by males in single-victim, single-offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report. Excluded from that report were Florida and Alabama; only partial data is included for Illinois.

The study found that black women are disproportionately impacted by lethal domestic violence. In 2015, black females were killed by men at a rate of 2.43 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of 0.96 per 100,000 for white women slain by men.

Errors in documenting domestic violence also affect the data. Kentucky lacks a reliable reporting system for domestic violence deaths. The legislature should at least create an accurate data base — the cost would be small — and review the death toll annually.

Additional information was added to this editorial after initial publication.

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