Family courts know that domestic violence cases can easily escalate to dangerous, even lethal, levels particularly when an abusive party has access to firearms. Firearms laws have the potential to protect domestic violence victims and their children from lethal violence by limiting an abuser’s access to firearms. Through cutting edge training, technical assistance, and legal research, the NCJFCJ works with courts and communities nationwide to implement practices to ensure that courts protect victims of domestic violence from firearms lethality.
The National Summit for Community Safety
In 2006, the NCJFCJ hosted the first-ever national dialogue focusing on domestic violence and firearms. The National Summit for Community Safety (Summit) brought together nearly 250 judges, advocates, and other professionals to discuss issues concerning domestic violence and firearms. The Summit was the result of a partnership between the NCJFCJ, the National Center on Full Faith and Credit, the Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP), and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).
Since the groundbreaking Summit more than a decade ago, the NCJFCJ has educated thousands of judges and other professionals on firearms issues through webinars, conferences, and workshops. The NCJFCJ has developed, with the help of national experts, two publications that address the role of courts and law enforcement in protecting victims of domestic violence from abusers’ use of firearms against them: A Passport to Safety: Full Faith and Credit, A Judicial Guide and Civil Protection Orders: A Guide to Improving Practice.
Leadership and Technical Assistance on Firearms and Domestic Violence
Although the NCJFCJ has provided technical assistance (TA) on firearms and domestic violence since shortly after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, in the past five years that work has accelerated. In 2014, the NCJFCJ embarked on a three-year TA project focused on the issue, in partnership with BWJP and OVW. During the project, the NCJFCJ was instrumental in developing a set of community objectives that provide a national framework for effective implementation of federal, state, tribal, and local firearms prohibitions. In addition to convening a focus group of judges in January 2015 to discuss barriers to enforcing firearms prohibitions and identify strategies for overcoming those barriers, the NCJFCJ helped to organize the Forum on Firearms, the second national multidisciplinary convening about domestic violence and firearms, held in Detroit in May 2015.
As part of that project, the NCJFCJ was also instrumental in planning a Tribal Convening, held in January 2017, to discuss particular challenges to implementing firearms restrictions in Indian Country. Throughout the project, the NCJFCJ contributed significantly to the development of a website of online resources for professionals who are working to implement firearms prohibitions in their communities.
In fall 2016, the NCJFCJ was awarded a grant from OVW to conduct a national technical assistance initiative, now called the Firearms Technical Assistance Project (FTAP), to provide TA and training to five to seven diverse communities interested in enhancing their efforts to implement firearms prohibitions in domestic violence cases. In partnership with OVW, the NCJFCJ has been collaborating with BWJP and numerous other project partners on the project, starting with an intensive effort to identify the project sites with a focus on achieving diversity among the sites, including in terms of geography, demographics, statutory framework, and other relevant characteristics.
The NCJFCJ and its project partners currently are working with the six project sites selected to participate in the FTAP, and they are helping the communities to design and implement policies, protocols, and promising practices to prevent abusers from having access to firearms in domestic violence cases. Through the FTAP, the NCJFCJ and its partners work with a team of local stakeholders at each site and provide intensive TA, training, and mentoring to each community, tailored to its unique needs. Over the course of the project, which is expected to continue through the next two to three years, the NCJFCJ and its partners will help the project sites to improve their own responses to domestic violence and firearms while learning invaluable lessons that eventually will be shared beyond the project with communities across the country. An important focus of this work will involve identifying and working with traditionally underserved and/or marginalized communities to ensure that the strategies for improving the implementation of firearms prohibitions in domestic violence cases reflect the needs and circumstances experienced by such communities.
The six FTAP project sites are Birmingham, Alabama; Brooklyn, New York; Columbus, Ohio; Muscogee (Creek Nation) in Oklahoma; Spokane, Washington; and the state of Vermont.
Professionals in the justice system look to the courts for leadership on the state and local levels to address the impact of firearms in domestic violence cases. The NCJFCJ’s programs recognize this and provide professionals with research-supported solutions to gun violence against intimate partners. Communities and judges are receiving information and implementing strategies on issuing effective orders to surrender firearms, monitoring compliance with such orders, and storage and return of firearms; they are also receiving a grounding in federal and state firearms laws. An evaluation of the NCJFCJ’s judicial institutes found that judges said they would incorporate the techniques they learned to apply and enforce firearms laws and share the information with other judges and colleagues.
Judges and other professionals should be well educated on domestic violence and firearms issues. Judges enhance safety and accountability by implementing promising practices on firearms. Courts communicate more effectively with federal agencies to enhance the amount and reliability of data entered into the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).
The NCJFCJ recommends continued funding to educate judges and other professionals and to provide them with expert TA on domestic violence and firearms issues, as well as provision of funding to develop effective data entry uploads into NICS from courts regarding protection orders and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.