Although not all murder-suicides involve a firearm, firearms are more lethal than most other methods used to commit a homicide and/or suicide, and those who are injured by a firearm in those incidents are less likely to survive.
CHART: CAUSE OF DEATH OF PRIMARY VICTIM
Abusers’ access to firearms increases lethal risk for victims, abusers, first responders, and bystanders. In Georgia, firearms are the leading cause of domestic violence-related fatalities, more than all other methods combined.
Federal law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and those subject to a qualifying TPO from possessing firearms and ammunition. A violation of either of these provisions of the Gun Control Act carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. While federal law requires enforcement at the state level, several states have passed clarifying legislation that assists in the implementation of the Gun Control Act and issues surrounding the collection, storage, and release of firearms. However, Georgia is not one of these states, and law enforcement and some courts may not consistently enforce the federal law to the fullest extent possible.
CHART: FIREARMS USED TO KILL VICTIM WHILE TPO IN PLACE
Even when best practices are followed and every effort to prohibit dangerous individuals from possessing firearms is made, some abusers will still obtain access. In fact, a TPO was in place at the time of homicide in 29% of reviewed murder-suicide cases in which a firearm was used. This occurred more than twice as often as in reviewed homicide cases (14%). In order to avoid similar access despite prohibitions, we must cast a wider net to locate and remove firearms from those individuals and enhance enforcement of the law as it pertains to their possession.
- Store firearms locked and unloaded. If possible, store ammunition in a separate location.
- Obtain training and know warning signs of suicide and domestic violence, then develop a policy for refusing to sell firearms to anyone determined to be exhibiting them.
- Consider putting up awareness posters and displaying brochures, such as those available through the New Hampshire Gun Shop Project mentioned on page 51 of the 2016 Fatality Review Annual Report.
- Perform comprehensive background checks before transactions.
- Develop countywide protocols to establish how each agency will cooperate to restrict access to firearms by domestic violence offenders and protective order Respondents.
- Prioritize removing firearms from abusers who have made homicidal or suicidal threats.
- Superior Courts and Magistrate Courts: Send names and other identifying information of abusers subject to a TPO to Probate Courts in your circuit in order to enforce existing Georgia law prohibiting those subject to a TPO from obtaining or maintaining a Concealed Weapons Carry permit.
- State Courts and other courts handling domestic violence-related misdemeanors: Send names and other identifying information of perpetrators convicted of a domestic violence-related misdemeanor to Probate Courts in your circuit in order to enforce existing Georgia law prohibiting those convicted of domestic violence-related misdemeanors from obtaining or maintaining a Concealed Weapons Carry permit.
- Ensure criminal judgments are entered into the Georgia Crime Information Center and TPOs are entered into the Georgia Protective Order Registry.
- Ask victims about the presence of firearms during the Ex Parte TPO process.
- Notify law enforcement of any abusers believed to have possession of firearms in violation of the law, so their presence can be addressed at time of service.
- Provide abusers with notice of federal firearms prohibitions upon issuance of a protective order and at time of sentencing in criminal cases.
- Develop policies that ensure firearms are removed from domestic violence offenders. These may include incorporating “take and maintain” or prohibitive language in special conditions of bond orders.
- When determining bond, take into account a perpetrator’s possession of firearms and consider ordering surrender of weapons and ammunition as a condition of release.
- Set compliance hearings to ensure abusers have surrendered firearms and ammunition.
- Ensure protective order forms include language explicitly requiring removal of firearms and ammunition from the abuser and sign the TPO provision confirming the case meets federal firearm prohibition requirements.
- In TPO cases where weapons are seized, notify offenders of the process for retrieving them upon expiration of the order.
- Ensure victims are aware of the risk of using a TPO as a bridge to another order (e.g., a divorce decree), or relying on other types of orders (perhaps a Domestic Standing Order, a Temporary Order or a divorce decree) for protective provisions such as reduced contact with the abuser or removal of firearms. These orders often do not satisfy requirements for immediate criminal enforceability, nor do they trigger federal firearm prohibitions or full faith and credit enforcement.
- Incorporate Fourth Amendment Waivers into plea offers and recommended sentencing.
- Send names and other identifying information for perpetrators convicted of a domestic violence-related misdemeanor to Probate Courts in your circuit in order to enforce existing Georgia law prohibiting those convicted of domestic violence-related misdemeanors from obtaining or maintaining a Concealed Weapons Carry permit.
- Include removal of firearms in sentencing orders.
- Conduct immediate search for firearms in cases that have a Fourth Amendment Waiver, where possession is restricted and guns are believed to be present.
- Ensure firearms restrictions and surrender are specifically incorporated into terms of probation and enforced.
- File a petition to revoke probation when an offender refuses or fails to surrender firearms or ammunition, or is found with a firearm or ammunition in his possession.
- Collaborate to initiate contempt of court proceedings upon an abuser’s refusal or failure to surrender firearms and ammunition.
- When responding to domestic violence incidents and while parties are separated, ask victims about perpetrators’ access to and possession of firearms, including firearms the perpetrator owns, shares with others, or otherwise has access to; specific make, model and caliber of firearms; and the specific location and how to access the firearms. Include these details in your incident report.
- Develop “take and maintain” relationships with your court and domestic violence programs to safely store firearms for the duration of a TPO.
- If a TPO prohibits possession of a firearm and an abuser/Respondent is found in possession of a firearm, arrest him on either an aggravated stalking charge, if appropriate, or Violation of a Family Violence Order. Seize the weapon and notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
- If an officer finds an abuser to be in possession of a weapon after being convicted of a qualifying misdemeanor family violence offense, seize the weapon and notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
- Ask victims about presence of firearms at home and develop safety plans specific to the presence of weapons. Work with victims to document perpetrators’ access to and possession of firearms, including firearms the perpetrator owns, shares with others, or otherwise has access to; specific make, model and caliber of firearms; and the specific location and how to access the firearms.
- Ensure victims who are seeking a TPO include relief specific to firearms in their Petitions.
- Routinely ask victims about abusers’ access to firearms and help victims understand the Court’s ability to restrict access to firearms.
Mental Health Providers, Substance Abuse Providers, Medical Providers, Family Violence Intervention Program Providers
- Receive training on how to help clients at risk of suicide and their families reduce access to lethal means, particularly firearms. Consider the free, two-hour course through the Suicide Prevention Resource Center on Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM) by registering at www.training.sprc.org.
- Ask participants about their access to firearms and include questions about access on your intake paperwork. Share concerns about abusers’ access with your victim liaison.
- Participants must sign a contract including a provision they will remove all weapons from their home. Assist the participant with locating safe alternatives, such as safekeeping with a local law enforcement agency, or selling weapons.
- Align state firearm forfeiture laws with federal law to clarify law enforcement’s authority to remove weapons and establish penalties for the possession of firearms by TPO Respondents and those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.