PROVIDENCE, RI – Everytown for Gun Safety today released original research showing that people subject to final domestic abuse protective orders in Rhode Island are rarely required to turn in their guns, even when they are prohibited from firearm possession by federal law and there is evidence they have access to guns and pose a serious risk to their victims. The report (available here), first covered in an exclusive story in the Providence Journal, is being released as the Rhode Island House and Senate considers legislation (H 5655 and S 503) to better protect domestic abuse victims.
Under federal law, when a Rhode Island judge grants a victim’s request for a final domestic abuse protective order against an intimate partner, it bars the abuser from buying or possessing guns. Though federal law does not provide a mechanism to ensure that prohibited abusers turn in the guns they already have, fifteen states – including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York – fill this gap by requiring that abusers turn in their guns for the length of the order. Current Rhode Island law allows the court to order the abuser to turn in his firearms – but does not require the court to do so.
“For the first time, this investigation takes a look at how Rhode Island is doing when it comes to keeping women safe from abusers with guns – and the unfortunate finding is that it is failing to do so,” said Ted Alcorn, Everytown for Gun Safety Research Director. “By requiring only one of every 20 domestic abusers to turn in their firearms, Rhode Island is putting women at risk.”
Everytown examined every available final domestic abuse protective order issued by Rhode Island Family and District courts between 2012 and 2014 – 1,857 orders in total, amounting to more than 22,000 pages of documents. The findings show that abusers subject to final protective orders were only ordered to turn in their guns five percent of the time. Even when there was evidence that the abuser had access to a firearm, had threatened the victim with a firearm, or the victim had explicitly asked the court to order the abuser to turn in his firearms, courts only ordered the abuser to turn in guns in 13 percent of the cases. As a consequence, 325 abusers who appeared to have access to firearms were not ordered to turn them in.
“These findings are deeply troubling and suggest that there is so much more we can be doing for victims of domestic violence in Rhode Island,” said Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Rhode Island women and families shouldn’t have to live in fear of domestic abusers armed with guns. I’m hopeful that our state’s leaders will address this serious problem.”
“Any and all tools available to law enforcement to help protect domestic abuse victims are a priority,” said Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. “Keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers is critical in protecting victims.”
Analysis of these orders revealed the following:
- Firearms are a frequent factor in Rhode Island domestic abuse cases. Of the reviewed cases, nearly one in four indicated a firearm threat: the victim indicated the abuser had access to a firearm, the abuser had threatened to use a gun against the victim, or the victim explicitly asked the court to order the abuser to turn in his guns.
- Nearly 40 percent of victims’ requests for final protective orders described abusive behavior matching at least one “lethality risk factor” – criteria that epidemiologists have consistently linked to domestic violence homicides.
- Courts ordered abusers to turn in firearms in just five percent of cases. Even when the request indicated a firearm threat, courts ordered abusers to turn in their guns just 13 percent of cases.
- The rate at which courts ordered abusers to turn in their guns varied substantially across the state, from a low of two percent to a high of 53 percent.
Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced legislation to better protect domestic abuse victims. A pair of bills under consideration in the Rhode Island House and Senate – H 5655 and S 503 – would prohibit gun possession by people subject to final domestic abuse protective orders and people convicted of domestic violence crimes, bringing state law in line with federal law. The bills would also require these abusers to turn in their firearms to law enforcement or gun dealers upon becoming prohibited.