Throughout our Domestic Violence Awareness Month blog series, you will hear about domestic violence from various individuals, each with a unique perspective and experience. This week, in their own words, we hear from Michelle and Christine. Thank you to our contributing writers for sharing.
“As a domestic violence legal advocate, I understand the importance of quickly identifying when threats have been made with a firearm. I also have seen firsthand how the survivor’s level of fear and uncertainty escalates when firearms are a concern.
We are all cognizant of the data about increased lethality when firearms are in the hands of someone who chooses to harm. These statistics need to be emphasized loud and clear until meaningful change occurs. Over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with guns, and a woman is five times as likely to be killed when the person abusing her has a firearm. An ex parte emergency order of protection offers remedy 14.5 as a means of removing a firearm in the face of a credible threat but is of little use with the “after a hearing” language attached to the remedy. Advocates are left trying to explain why the respondent’s right to a hearing trumps the petitioner’s need for immediate removal of the firearm.
As an advocate in counties where firearm threats are becoming more of an issue than in previous years, I have spoken to many people about remedy 14.5, including judges, attorneys and advocates at many sister agencies. After countless discussions, I can say that the only certainty to the firearm issue in protective orders is that the need exists for clarification and reform.
“Sanya” was a client whose partner had beaten her and pointed a handgun at her after an assault. He threatened to kill her several times over the course of their relationship if she went to the police or court. She was immobilized by her fear until the threats targeted her adult son.
When Sanya appeared in court for the first status on her request for a Plenary Order of Protection, several deputies stood on stand-by outside and inside of the courthouse. She explained to me how her nineteen-year-old son had insisted on going to court with her but she forbid it. “If something was to happen, he would jump in front of me,” she explained. “I don’t want his life to end that way.” As an advocate and a mother of sons, her fear was palpable. She was truly scared that her son would be forced to trade his life for hers. If only her fear could bear witness for the countless others who daily endure similar situations.
When I am asked to speak on firearm issues and the need for reform, hers is only one of the faces that I see. Sadly, in my years as an advocate, there have been many others.”
— Michelle DeVoss, Senior Legal Advocate, Freedom House
“My first instance of requesting 14.5 was for an Emergency Order of Protection (EOP) where the husband had pulled out his handgun during an argument and pointed it at the Petitioner. When she started screaming, he made the comment, “What? You really think I’m going to shoot you?” He then pointed it at himself. This was done in front of their children. She was able to diffuse the situation and the next day, came to file for an OP. I requested that the firearm was removed with remedy 14.5 and the judge initially told me that he couldn’t do that without a hearing. I advocated that the remedy is listed in the EOP and acknowledged that the verbiage seems confusing. Fortunately, our judge understood the severity of the situation and took a recess so that he could do some research. He did end up granting a 24-hour firearm surrender. As I explained in the Zoom, Henry County had somewhere along the way developed a “Supplemental Attachment for 14.5” which was completed and attached. Since this case, I would venture to guess that I’ve be successful with another three or four of these when there was an immediate threat with a firearm. Each time, our judges cringe because the orders are not clear. Why add it to an EOP if there needs to be a hearing first? Honestly, 24-hours is still an alarming amount of time for the Respondent to have a firearm after service of a protective order. At least it offers some relief to the Petitioner, though. Shelter is always offered, of course. As far as using a Firearm Restraining Order, we were previously advised by ICADV not to use them because they are not intended for domestic violence. I am grateful that this remedy is going to be addressed.”
— Illinois Domestic Violence Advocate (story shared with the permission of the survivor)
“As I reflect on domestic violence and firearms, I think back to many years ago when I worked directly with survivors at legal services in Ohio. The same issues still exist today. The nuanced discussions with survivors about what it would mean to ask for the firearm prohibition remedy, letting them know under federal law if any protection order is granted the respondent is prohibited from having firearms, and what could happen in court. Sometimes, a survivor would say “yes I want a protection order but not ask for firearm removal because I know where the firearms are and they are with me” or “yes please include removing the firearms from the order”. Then the issue would become how the judge would react and whether the judge would grant the firearm prohibition, if that happens, will law enforcement enforce the removal of the firearms. All of these questions still exist today in Illinois.
When I started at the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) in 2018, I went and visited every ICADV service region. We wrote the report, Survivors’ Access to Safety Not Fully Available, based on those conversations. Advocates clearly stated that remedy 14.5 firearm prohibition is rarely granted even on plenary orders. Why is this so important?
One of the questions when working with survivors to assist them in determining their own level of safety of not, is asking about firearms. According to the ICADV 2022 Homicide Report, in 49% of domestic violence deaths, firearms were the means of death.
Not only is removing firearms a safety issue for survivors but it is also a public health and community safety issue. A recent study showed that the majority of mass shootings are linked to domestic violence. This study is from May 2021, and showed that in 68.3% of mass shootings analyzed (mass shooting defined as four fatalities or more), the perpetrator either killed family or intimate partners or the shooter had a history of domestic violence. Domestic violence related mass shootings also have a higher fatality rate.[i]
Removing firearms from those who choose violence is safety and security for survivors, the community, and the general public. ICADV has made this a priority since I started at ICADV and ICADV has written into our policy platform number 7:
- Firearms. It is the policy of ICADV to address firearms legislation that both directly and indirectly impacts domestic violence victims and their families, including but not limited to remedies relating to firearms as part of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act and legislation impacting Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) cards. ICADV supports advocacy to effectively implement firearm provisions of the IDVA, including mandatory seizure of weapons and FOID cards if a protection order includes remedy 14.5.
Reflecting back on my years working with survivors, it felt like I was attempting to do systems change through every single case and protection order. I am no longer in the capacity of directly assisting survivors in navigating the difficult terrain of seeking and obtaining protection orders and all the nuances that go with that work. However, as Director of Policy and Systems Advocacy it is my role to not only to engage membership at the national level and state level in advocating for more protective firearm legislation, also to advocate for such legislation at the national and state level myself on behalf of membership and survivors, and to provide assistance in implementing current laws in local communities. We can continue to work to improve legislation that protects survivors such as Karina’s bill, however, we also have much work to do on ensuring that the protections we fought for legislatively are implemented and utilized in every county. Where a survivor resides should not determine their ability to seek safety and if they chose, to have firearms removed.
We can and should do more beyond legislation, we can:
- Push for more required data collection and reporting to the state and federal government with regular reporting of that data about domestic violence incidents including fatalities and the role of firearms.
- Have the establishment of multi-disciplinary working groups responsible for compliance and addressing challenges as they arise in every jurisdiction; for those communities that have family violence coordinating councils making firearm protections a priority for local accountability.
- Improved public and community education on how these policies protect the public and community.
- Improve survivor outreach so that survivors engage in services and understand what will improve their personal safety.
- Obtain survivor feedback on the impact of these policies and enforcement.
- Disseminate widely, have conversations locally about what is working at the local level as far as protection order enforcement including firearm dispossession (there are civil courts that have regular calendar check ins concerning specific provisions in protection orders and accountability of the respondent) and encouraging these kinds of programs locally.
- Improved materials and training for all system stakeholders including judges, law enforcement, public health organizations, and others.
And of course, funding allocated specifically to these strategies.
Since I started in 2018, I have continued to work with the ICADV Advocacy Funding and Accountability Committee and will continue to work the Committee to advocate for improved firearm protection policies and implementation. We not only know it intuitively as advocates, but research shows that strengthening federal and state laws related to domestic violence and firearms is associated with reductions in intimate partner homicide.[i] We continue to work so that every survivor in Illinois has access to safety and security.
— Christine Raffaele, ICADV Director of Policy & Systems Advocacy
[i] Zeoli AM, Webster DW. Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities. Inj Prev. 2010 Apr;16(2):90-5. doi: 10.1136/ip.2009.024620. PMID: 20363814; PMCID: PMC2913578.Zeoli AM, & Webster DW. (2010 Injury Prevention.