Missouri continuously ranks in the top 10 of states for gun violence deaths and the number of women killed by their partners.
Domestic violence hotlines throughout Missouri receive on average about 200 calls a day, and in 2020 nearly 30,000 individuals received services through the state’s domestic violence programs.
The numbers are staggering, yet Missouri continues to fail these vulnerable constituents by allowing domestic abusers unfettered access to the most commonly used weapon in domestic violence homicides: guns.
This is the point where I tell you about how pro-gun I am. About how I am a good shot, and how my father was a hunter , etc., in order to convince you that I’m not about to spout off about how we need to take away guns so that you don’t immediately tune out.
As a society, we have generally agreed that when individuals commit certain heinous crimes, they lose certain inalienable rights. Yet there is a certain population of violent offenders whom Missouri seems to have left off the hook.
Multiple bills have been introduced this year to help curb the access that those convicted of domestic violence have to guns. But even on the off chance these bills make it to a vote, the proposed measures continue to fall short.
As it stands in Missouri, there is no state law requiring that a person convicted of a domestic violence offense surrender firearms following a conviction or during the temporary period when they are under a full protective order. This means they have been subject to a protection order, been allowed a hearing and a full order of protection has been issued.
As it stands in Missouri, there is no requirement that anybody convicted of domestic violence complete a background check prior to purchasing a firearm.
As it stands in Missouri, there is no enforcement of federal laws that ban domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing firearms, thanks to the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA), a law put in place last year that prohibits enforcement of certain federal gun laws.
As it stands, there is literally nothing codified in Missouri state law that prevents a domestic abuser from going to a gun store and purchasing a pistol and some ammo with the intention of using it against their partner, except their own moral compass.
Missouri’s one saving grace is a state law that prevents felons from possessing firearms. However, since many domestic violence crimes are pled down to misdemeanors, despite being violent in nature, this offers little consolation.
The bipartisan efforts with House Bill 473 and Senate Bill 963 would help to alleviate some of these loopholes by allowing, as opposed to compelling, a court to prohibit an individual from possessing or purchasing a gun while a full order of protection is in effect, or following a conviction of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense.
However, that short period between when a victim is granted an emergency temporary order of protection, and when the hearing for a full order of protection is held, is often the most dangerous period of time for victims.
Anybody who has worked with survivors of domestic violence is familiar with the incessant question: “Why don’t they just leave?”
Not only does this question place the blame for domestic violence on the victim, but statistically speaking, the most dangerous time for victims is when they try to leave. The majority of victims who are murdered by their abusers are killed after they have left the relationship. But if you’re a victim living in Missouri, and you try to leave your abusive partner, the only thing the judicial system often offers you for protection is a piece of paper. Even if a victim can get an order of protection, their partner may still have a gun at home, or can easily go buy one.
And no restraining order is bullet-proof.
If you think this isn’t your problem because you are not in an abusive relationship, consider the current murder rates in Missouri. The majority of mass shootings over the past decade have been extensions of intimate-partner violence. That means that even if you are not one of the 1 in 4 women or 1 in 7 men who will experience severe domestic abuse in your lifetime, you are not immune to its consequences.
A 2014 study in the national journal of public health found that 20% of domestic violence homicide victims were not themselves the intimate partners but were instead corollary victims. Domestic violence, when it spills beyond the confines of home, kills bystanders, responding law enforcement, friends, neighbors, family and children. The vast majority of children killed by gun violence are killed in an incident related to intimate-partner violence. It is an ever-present threat, as long as we continue to allow abusers to access guns.
So often we hear of the necessity of guns for protection. But who is being protected? The focus of Missouri conservatives seems to be on protecting the Second Amendment rights of domestic abusers, leaving victims of intimate-partner violence without much protection at all. Gun advocates would say that victims should arm themselves, but there is little to no data that backs up the idea that having a gun will offer any real protection for victims. However, when an abuser has access to a firearm, they are five times more likely to kill their partner.
In an election year with an exceedingly politicized electorate, it’s sad to see elected officials are still pushing these extremist arguments, regardless of whether they hold water constitutionally. But in truth, I’m more disheartened by the fact that legislating meaningful and positive change for Missourians has taken a back burner to this pathetic contest to see who can push the envelope the furthest, even if that means defending violent criminals’ access to guns, over a victim’s right to life.
Missouri needs to do better by its most vulnerable citizens. We need to give law enforcement the legal framework to work with federal agencies to protect victims of domestic violence. Missouri needs to prohibit people subject to temporary protective orders or convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing firearms and we need to enact a system that lays out how people subject to these restrictions should surrender their firearms or how law enforcement should confiscate them.
The priority and focus of our elected officials need to be on making Missouri a safe place for people to live, and we don’t do that by continuing to allow dangerous offenders to access guns.
This commentary by Taylor Hirth, a freelance writer, public speaker and advocate for survivors of sexual violence, is published from The Missouri Independent.