Is gun ownership linked to domestic violence?

Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska are some of the worst states in the US for reported domestic violence. So what is happening on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line to counter this?

While most Americans continue to discuss domestic violence within a report of state-by-state variation, another piece of data is quietly making a shift in attitudes.

The website womencount.org, which gathers data from dozens of agencies in 28 states, recently reported that, from January 2012 to June 2017, reports of domestic violence from law enforcement and the criminal justice system – a tally that includes a large number of traffic accidents – in the three US states that border on Iowa had experienced a 20% decline, compared with the same period in 2010.

Nebraska, with its Central Plains location, plus strict gun laws and access to Americans willing to carry concealed weapons, is one of those states that has become a secret weapon in the fight against domestic violence.

Advocates for victims say that the state has taken several steps to curb this crime, including creating more avenues for obtaining restraining orders, which can lead to arrests, and creating a familial unit registry, which protects mothers from abuse and provides a platform for children to seek guidance and support from their parents in future abuse incidents.

Elisha Shelton, who runs the Safe Project, which serves 25 men each year from a shelter in Omaha, agrees that the violence within Nebraska is on the decline, and believes that men’s attitudes toward women are part of the reason. The group, which identifies with the Empowerment Project, says this is the first time in its existence that male providers have attended a screening, after receiving positive feedback from the women they serve, about how to make peace with their female clients.

According to Shelton, domestic violence is now essentially a taboo subject in men’s conversations with friends, and most men believe that it is women’s fault if they are abused. “I’ve seen first-hand the lack of understanding the men have of what actually goes on behind closed doors,” she says.

She believes that society needs to take another look at stereotypes about men and violence, and believe that men should not be allowed to define what a healthy relationship is. For example, the domestic violence statutes need to be looked at again. Shelton says that judges in New York should seriously consider the violence and stalking witnessed by both sides during a marriage’s ups and downs before awarding custody of the children.

When it comes to arming law enforcement, Shelton believes that technology is the answer. On her Safe Project’s case load, which includes men facing felony charges of domestic assault, she has seen that 70% of the current assault weapons belong to law enforcement. She believes they should be sold back to the individuals who used them and the new owners mandated to undergo training in firearms and long-term range shooting.

“You really don’t need that much to kill someone, you just need a chair and about 100 rounds. So unless you’re trained, you’re crazy,” she says. She points out that many gun owners don’t go through the necessary training on handling their weapon properly, and that people are sometimes advised to keep their firearms in safe storage, or in a well-secured weapon compartment.

Shelton also thinks that for gun ownership laws, legislation such as in Nebraska must match the reality of people living outside of cities. She points out that the local police department in Omaha, for example, only has a concealed carry permit for up to nine bullets, and will only issue that permit after all nine are fired in their lifetime.

“I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have to have 10 bullets fired within one lifetime. And I don’t think anybody could identify [someone shooting] 10 bullets within that lifetime,” Shelton says.

What you can do to end domestic violence and keep your family safe in the US Read more

Of course, Shelton feels that any weapon use in a relationship should be restricted, as “a gun is a bigger threat than you might think”. She explains that when it comes to strangers, and fears of retaliation if you are reporting your abuse, sometimes she asks her clients not to report the abuse.

Yet for domestic violence survivors, she says, it’s their “only way to survive”.

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