Firearm access among perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) is more prevalent than previously thought, according to a new study published in Social Science and Medicine.

Authors of the study include Julie Kafka, an Injury and Violence Prevention (IVP) Fellow at UNC Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), Dr. Beth Moracco, Associate Director of IPRC, and Claire Hoffman, Graduate Research Assistant at IPRC. Deanna Williams, alumna from UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior, also contributed to this study.

The researchers used secondary data from the CASE IPV study, which employed a representative sampling strategy to examine civil domestic violence protective order (DVPO) cases (n = 406) in North Carolina. They conducted a content analysis of case data and courtroom hearing observation notes to record IPV perpetrator access to guns and identify any reported firearm abuse behaviors. They then conducted a logistic regression analysis to determine whether IPV perpetrator gun access was associated with higher levels of reported abuse.

There was evidence of perpetrator firearm access in 46% of DVPO cases. Gun access was strongly associated with higher levels of reported abuse, even after controlling for other factors. Perpetrators with access to firearms often used or attempted to use a weapon against their partner and sexually abused their partner. In addition, about a quarter of all cases included explicit descriptions of firearm abuse. Spoken threats were the most common firearm abuse behavior, and were often directed toward the survivor, although some cases described coercive suicide threats or threats to family, friends, or new intimate partners.

This study suggests that perpetrator access to firearms is more prevalent than previously thought; past research found perpetrator firearm access in only 10-18% of restraining order cases. This research also reveals that firearm abuse commonly manifests as non-physical coercive control which is traumatic and has the potential to escalate to homicide, even in the absence of past physical violence. Given these findings, state and federal officials should consider strengthening firearm laws and regulations to limit firearm access for IPV perpetrators. States should also consider streamlining DVPO courtroom procedures, in order to capture perpetrator access to firearms more consistently.

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