One of the top barriers to disclosing abuse is fear of retaliation from abusers. If Rahimi is overturned, that barrier could become insurmountable.
During this upcoming term, the Supreme Court is set to rule on United States v. Rahimi, a case which will decide whether the government can continue to prevent alleged domestic abusers with a restraining order from possessing firearms.
As leaders of a gun violence prevention center and a nonprofit dedicated to supporting victims, we have seen how embracing an evidence-based, public health approach to issues like gun violence and domestic violence can save lives. We know that restraining orders give victims the confidence to report abuse and reduce the fear of retaliation.
Overturning Rahimi will likely have the opposite effect and lower rates of disclosure, preventing doctors from providing comprehensive medical treatment, offering referrals to social services and developing safe exit plans from abusive households.
The politicized nature of gun debates is not disappearing anytime soon. However, we should all be able to come together and recognize the overwhelming evidence that confirms guns in the possession of suspected abusers lead to deadly outcomes.
Although we’ve each spent years on different frontlines of the same battle against violence, there’s a throughline that connects our work: Cycles of violence repeat themselves. However, there is almost always an opportunity to intervene.
Domestic violence cases in particular often show recognizable patterns that sound alarms for doctors, neighbors and loved ones. These patterns are why we have laws that take weapons out of the hands of suspected domestic abusers.
Now, this upcoming Supreme Court Case could take those laws away and send us back to a time when society ranked domestic violence among any number of trivial household disputes. That should raise alarms for all of us.
There’s a reason the majority of Americans support keeping guns away from alleged perpetrators of domestic violence: It makes our communities safer. Domestic disputes involving a gun rarely affect one person alone. In fact, a majority of mass shootings in the U.S. today are related to family violence. In abusive households, victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has easy access to a gun. An estimated 4.5 million women have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. Guns are also used as the murder weapon in more than half of cases where women were killed by their partners in domestic violence disputes.
The answer to this problem is not to tell victims to simply leave. We know that for so many reasons, working up the courage to leave an abusive relationship is one of the most difficult decisions victims can make. It could mean facing homelessness or giving up the only family they have ever known. It also places them at heightened risk of retaliation and further violence. Victims need to feel a sense of security when they reach out to specialists like us so we can safely give them the critical care and resources they need.
In abusive households, victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has easy access to a gun.
But reaching out becomes harder when a victim has to return home to an armed abuser. Even if everything goes right and victims can find the support they need, the hours and days after making that decision could be deadly. That window of time is often when domestic violence restraining orders are issued, but those orders aren’t enough to protect victims on their own. That’s why the federal provision was enacted in the first place.
If the Court strikes down this provision, abusers will be empowered to keep their guns—potentially allowing them to get revenge on victims who report abuse. Those of us in healthcare won’t be able to reassure victims that they’ll be protected once they leave our offices. Numerous studies have shown that one of the top barriers to disclosing abuse to healthcare providers is fear of retaliation from abusers. If Rahimi is overturned, that barrier could become insurmountable.
If the Court strikes down this provision, abusers will be empowered to keep their guns—potentially allowing them to get revenge on victims who report abuse.
There’s a chance that this lifesaving provision could be struck down as soon as next year—a decision that would needlessly expose countless victims to the risk of deadly violence.
But we have a chance to intervene. Those of us on the frontlines of this battle must speak now. We can’t control the outcome of this case, but we can point to the data and fight for the survivors who come through the doors of our hospitals and social service organizations.
We can’t afford to stand on the sidelines and let victims down.
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