The Sutherland Springs church massacre reaffirmed the importance of background check systems to reduce the rate of domestic violence-related gun violence. United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum on November 22 directing the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to take several actions to improve accurate reporting of information to the National Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

In addition to providing regular training and technical assistance on this topic, BWJP and its partners offer some light on the intersection of firearms and domestic violence and what individuals and communities can do to prevent future tragedies from occurring. Please read below to learn more about the issues impacting effective reporting to background check systems, the Armed Forces' response to the intersection of domestic violence and firearms, and new programs intended to enhance information access by Tribes to better protect Native women from gun violence.

Reporting Domestic Offenses to Background Check Databases: Does it Really Matter? 

Background check systems, such as NICS, were created to work like a net; they are designed to catch and deter anyone not allowed to possess a gun before a purchase is completed. A net with a gaping hole in it, however, is not effective. Too much slips through, including dangerous domestic abusers seeking to purchase firearms.

When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. In light of this escalated risk, Congress banned domestic abusers from possessing firearms over twenty years ago. To help enforce the ban, Congress mandated the creation of a system for conducting background checks on anyone attempting to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer. Many states, as well as Native American Tribes, have created associated databases for purchases taking place within their jurisdictions.

To read more, click here.

Firearms and Ammunition Prohibitions in the Military

Several studies estimate the rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration in the military from 13.3 percent to 47 percent among male active duty servicemembers, and 13.5 percent to 42 percent among male veterans. While the intersection of IPV and the military is not a new issue, there has been a significant increase in public discussion regarding domestic violence, firearms, and the military due to the recent Texas church shooting in Sutherland Springs. Some of this discussion has involved the firearms and ammunition prohibitions found in the Federal Gun Control Act (18 USC 922).

The Federal Gun Control Act does contain a specific provision prohibiting firearm possession by anyone who receives a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces. Additionally, military convictions under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, may also trigger federal firearm prohibitions. For example, any military conviction that carries a possible sentence of more than one year triggers a lifetime prohibition, as do any that qualify as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under the Lautenberg Amendment. While the lifetime firearm disqualification in the Lautenberg Amendment only applies to misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, it is U.S. Armed Forces’ policy to apply the lifetime prohibition to felony-level crimes of domestic violence as well. Notably, military convictions are permanent, so any and all resulting prohibitions based on the convictions remain in place even after a prohibited servicemember is discharged from the military.

To read more, click here.

Preventing Gun Violence Against Native Women

Six in ten Native women will be physically assaulted at some point in their lives and, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average. For Native women, the lethal threat a gun poses in the home of a domestic violence perpetrator is especially severe given that guns are involved in over one-third, approximately 35%, of homicides against Native women. Identifying and disarming domestic violence perpetrators is crucial to the survival of many Native women.

Although Congress granted eligible Tribes access to national crime information databases through the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, some Tribes’ access to national databases has been limited by various state regulations, statutes, and policies. In response to the continuing issues faced by Tribes, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a pilot program in 2015 called the Tribal Access Program (TAP). As a result of TAP, the DOJ has assumed responsibility for granting network access to national crime information systems to some Tribes. Participating Tribes are now able to search and retrieve federal criminal information and submit criminal records to national databases, in addition to accessing state-of-the-art biometric/biographic technology and specialized training.

To read more, click here.