Domestic Violence Homicides Climb As Supreme Court Weighs Bombshell Case

As gun rights expand, homicides claim the lives of a growing number of spouses and dating partners.

Intimate partner homicides spiked by 22% in the five years from 2018 to 2022, according to a report released Thursday by Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a gun reform advocacy group.

An American now fatally shoots their spouse or dating partner every 12 hours, the group’s analysis found. That rising violence, overwhelmingly directed at women, most commonly occurs in states where access to firearms is easiest.

The report, based on data collected by the Gun Violence Archive, comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a closely watched case that will decide whether people subject to protective orders for domestic violence can retain their gun rights.

Under the new gun rights standard laid out by Justice Clarence Thomas, judges no longer balance the need for public safety against the individual right to bear arms.
Under the new gun rights standard laid out by Justice Clarence Thomas, judges no longer balance the need for public safety against the individual right to bear arms.
Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

USA v. Rahimi, which is scheduled for oral arguments on Nov. 7, will mark the first time the conservative-dominated Supreme Court weighs in on gun rights since vastly expanding Second Amendment protections last year.

Under the new gun rights standard laid out by Justice Clarence Thomas in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, judges no longer balance the need for public safety against the individual right to bear arms. Instead, firearm restrictions are only constitutional if similar laws existed at some point roughly between 1791, when the Bill of Rights became law, and the end of the Civil War.

That landmark ruling set off a torrent of conflicting lower-court decisions, with judges overturning gun safety laws that had survived constitutional challenges for decades. Federal judges have blocked enforcement of Delaware’s ban on “ghost guns,” overturned a Texas law raising the age to buy handguns to 21, and cast doubt on the constitutionality of several states’ long-standing assault weapons bans.

In one of the most controversial decisions, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a conviction against Zackey Rahimi for possessing at least two firearms while under a protective order for committing family violence against his former partner and their young child. The ruling restored the gun rights of a man accused of repeatedly firing guns in public, often at other people, though he always missed.

Rahimi is unlikely to possess a firearm legally again. He has been locked up since January 2021 in a Tarrant County prison, where he faces indictment for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against three separate people, as well as recklessly discharging a firearm and possession of fentanyl. In addition to prison time, conviction for any of those state felonies would disqualify him from firearm ownership. He also still faces the possibility that the Supreme Court will rule against him in his unresolved federal felony case.

But the prospect of allowing domestic abusers to retain access to their guns has alarmed gun reformers, who say current laws don’t do enough to protect victims and survivors of domestic abuse from their tormentors.

“There will be horrific ramifications for women and children if the Supreme Court allows the Fifth Circuit decision to stand,” Kris Brown, president of Brady, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “We know that firearms are the most common weapons used in domestic violence homicides, with female intimate partners more likely to be murdered with a gun than by all other means combined. Prohibiting domestic violence abusers from accessing firearms is common-sense, life-saving, and constitutional.”

The total number of people killed by their spouse or dating partner jumped four years in a row from 642 in 2018 to a peak of 856 in 2021. The figure dropped to 782 last year — an improvement over the year before, but still 22% higher than five years ago, and a rate of about two intimate partner homicides daily nationwide.

Those numbers reflect broader firearm trends over the last few years. Firearm purchases skyrocketed following the pandemic, along with homicides. Firearm homicides in general peaked in 2021 at levels not seen since the 1990s, then dropped by 1.5% last year.

Men accounted for 83% of the perpetrators of intimate partner homicides, according to the Brady report.

The five states with the highest number of intimate partner homicides — Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee — were among those where it’s easiest to buy a gun. All five states allow firearm transactions that allow the buyer to avoid the background check they’d have to undergo when buying at a gun store with a Federal Firearm License.

Of the five states, only Tennessee requires domestic abusers to surrender their firearms once a judge issues a protective order against them, a measure that researchers have found correlates with a reduction in intimate partner homicides.

Texas led the nation with 90 intimate partner homicides over the five-year period. California, despite having a population one-third larger, registered 26 intimate partner homicides over the same period.

The two state’s differing gun regulations help explain the contrasting results, according to Brady’s research director, Grace Killian. Unlike Texas, California has expanded background checks and requires domestic abusers to surrender their firearms. California law bars people subject to a temporary restraining order for domestic violence from possessing a gun and applies that restriction to dating partners — a more stringent version of the law the Supreme Court is analyzing in the Rahimi case.

“Domestic violence and gun violence are just so intertwined,” said Killian. “States with stronger laws regulating how domestic abusers gain access to guns really go a long way in saving lives.”

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