Posted on September 6, 2022 by Amanda Cerreto

Kellie Lynch SEPTEMBER 7, 2022 — A UTSA professor will explore domestic violence gun laws in a research project supported by the Rutgers Violence Against Women Research Consortium. The consortium is a large grant (approximately $5 million) funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that aims to identify and fill critical gaps in existent research by funding different projects related to violence against women.

Associate professor of criminology and criminal justice Kellie Lynch is the principal investigator (PI) for one of those projects: "Implementation of Domestic Violence Firearm Policy in Urban and Rural Communities: Current Procedures and Future Directions." The project was awarded $121,167.

"There is strong evidence that certain domestic violence gun laws effectively prevent murders—especially intimate partner homicide."

Serving as co-PIs on the project are Michael Gusmano , Lehigh University, and Jeff Temple , UT Medical Branch Galveston. All three researchers have expertise in areas surrounding domestic violence: gun use, relationship dynamics and key legislation.

Access to a firearm drastically increases the likelihood that a woman will be killed by her abuser in cases of domestic violence, according to the American Journal of Public Health . Unfortunately, the use of guns to kill victims of intimate partner violence has increased in recent years.

“It is important to keep in mind that the issue at hand isn't about guns or the right to bear arms,” Lynch said. “This is about preventing death and serious injury among domestic violence victims and their families by limiting abusers' access to firearms during a very dangerous time. There is strong evidence that certain domestic violence gun laws effectively prevent murders—especially intimate partner homicide.”

They have discovered gaps in the process, however: safely surrendering a firearm and preventing firearm access while prohibited.

Under federal law and in some states, a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm if they are a respondent of a domestic violence restraining order (i.e., protective order) or convicted of a domestic violence charge. However, the ways to safely surrender a firearm are often unclear—and sometimes a process doesn't exist at all.

“Where they have to take it, how they have to turn it in, where it's stored—none of that is a set process,” Lynch explained. “It's a big problem, because then it can be passed around from agency to agency to decide who is responsible for taking that gun.”

Apart from the obvious safety concern of the victim in cases of domestic violence, officer safety is also a key issue. “Domestic violence calls can be very dangerous to first responders and there is risk associated with the people who have to confiscate those firearms,” Lynch said.

Lynch hopes her research will reveal the exact gaps in the process in eight different areas: two urban and two rural areas in Texas, and two urban and two rural areas in New Jersey.

“We are doing the study in two states to compare the different gun laws, different cultures, different politics and different makeups of communities,” Lynch said. “We want to compare and contrast the implementation efforts and differences and barriers and find out what's working and what's not.”

In New Jersey, for example, they implement a “Red Flag Law” where people can be issued extreme risk protective orders in an expedited manner. The researchers intend to learn about the logistics of this and determine what's effective and what's not and compare that to laws in Texas.

“The whole idea of this is to identify what the agencies need and what barriers they face,” Lynch said. “How do we try to address the issue of prohibiting domestic abusers from firearms when many agencies are already under resourced?”

The researchers have already been asked to share their findings with a domestic violence risk group in San Antonio.

“One of our big goals of this is to make sure we are disseminating our findings back to the community agencies that we’re collecting data from,” Lynch said. “We don’t want to come in as researchers and just tell them what they need to do. We need to understand the agency culture and what the community culture is, too.”

Lynch and her co-PIs will conduct key informant research—in-depth interviews with community stakeholders who have professional experience in the areas they are researching. This includes those who work in the criminal justice system and victim services. They expect a total of 40 to 60 one-hour interviews.

The researchers will have the data collection wrapped up by the end of the calendar year and will send their findings to NIJ. Once that data is submitted, they will compile a report to disseminate the findings to key community areas: domestic violence groups, law enforcement agencies and more.

Lynch and her team are aware that this is a complex issue and that firearms are only one component of preventing domestic homicides. However, they hope that their investigation reveals some of the logistical challenges agencies face and sheds light on potential solutions.

“Hopefully what we will see from this study is that it's not just about having gun laws, it's about effectively implementing those laws in different types of communities,” Lynch said. “At the end of the day, someone has to take responsibility for it.”

— Amanda Cerreto