When Guns Turn ‘Toxic’ Relationships Lethal

A North Carolina study finds that two-thirds of the deaths from firearms in the state were the result of intimate partner violence incidents. The author suggests six legislative changes, including limiting access to guns for those convicted of misdemeanors or other charges related to spousal violence.

Intimate partner violence serves as a catalyst for homicide-suicides, according to a North Carolina study published this month.

The study, which collected and analyzed data from North Carolina’s Violent Death Reporting System (NC-VDRS), compared homicide-suicides to mass shootings in the state between 2004 and 2014.

It found that homicide-suicides which target family members or intimate partners are far more common than mass shootings that target acquaintances or strangers.

Homicide-suicides usually target females, who are often times intimate partners, said the study, described as “one of the first to examine homicide-suicides in the context of both other homicides and other suicides.”

Rose Kerber, a research associate at the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission and author of the study, noted that domestic violence precedes most homicide-suicides, and many victims have contact with the law enforcement prior to their death, said.

“When (victims) of abuse attempts to leave a relationship, they are in particular danger that is heightened when the perpetrator has access to a gun,” Kerber wrote.

These cases can be understood as the culmination of “toxic relationships,” rather than problems with the characteristics of the perpetrator, such as mental illness, said Kerber.

Over the 10-year period of the study, there were 3,509 firearm homicides, including 258 homicide-suicides, in North Carolina. Two-thirds of the homicide suicides were intimate partner homicides.

Primarily, the motivation is homicidal intent, and perpetrators of homicide-suicide are less likely to have any history of mental illness or suicidal behavior than other suicidal individuals, the study said.

Evidence in the study showed that perpetrators become maximally violent when they have lost control of a relationship.

Therefore, restraining orders could be used as indicators that a homicide-suicide may occur. Many sought restraining orders at the particularly dangerous moments of separation from their abuser.

 Kerber suggested six changes to legislation that could help prevent intimate partner violence and lower homicide-suicide rates:

  • Allow dating partners and all family members to petition for domestic violence restraining orders;
  • Prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor stalking and all forms of domestic violence from firearm purchase or possession;
  • Require removal of all firearms from the scene of domestic violence incidents;
  • Require that law enforcement confiscate firearms from restraining order respondents and domestic violence misdemeanants;
  • dopt a system to screen for high risk domestic violence cases through coordination of the family court system the mental health system, and law enforcement;
  • Assign case managers to follow- up and report cases deemed high risk.

Several states have already adapted these proposed changes.

See also: “27 States Curb Guns for Domestic Violence Offenders” 

The predictability of homicide suicides makes them easy to prevent, Kerber wrote, noting that the goal should be to ensure that guns are not readily available those in abusive relationships.

“Suicide is especially likely to follow the homicide of a spouse, or child, demonstrating that the killer is highly dependent on the victim and is unable to exist without them,” the study said. “

With better policies to screen for potentially fatal domestic violence scenarios, enforce restraining orders, and remove firearms from abusive individuals, these people might still be alive today.”

Due to their unique ties with domestic violence, homicide- suicide cases should be studied independently and apart from other homicides or suicides cases, Kerber noted.

Editor’s Note: The Crime Report and the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence are holding a livestream event Tuesday on Intimate Partner Violence. To follow the livestream please register here. Or read TCR’s coverage of the event on Wednesday.

This summary was prepared by TCR intern Megan Hadley. The full study can be downloaded here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org