Council hearing reviews correlation of guns and domestic violence

In 2021, Philadelphia reported 562 murders, 70 of whom were women some in domestic disputes. Most of them were killed by gunfire and both figures were records for the city. So far this year about 100 people have been killed in the city, an 8% rise from last year.

Against this backdrop, City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson held a virtual hearing last month of the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, to discuss the correlation between gun violence and domestic violence, with officials of the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office and officials from organizations who advocate for and provide services to victims of domestic violence, who are mostly women.

“It was a very informative hearing one of the most informative that I have had,” said Johnson, who represents the 2nd District, which includes parts of South Philadelphia and Center City. “It gave us a firsthand account of some of the issues women encounter when they are in relationships as it relates to domestic violence. But also the role that guns play, not only in hurt and harming women, but also guns can be used as a means intimidation and power, by intimate partners dealing with a woman.”

For example, there was a lot of discussion about how Protection from Abuse orders are served, enforced, along with when and how and law enforcement can confiscate weapons from those who are the subjects of them.

Some of the recommendations by panelists were: Creating a registry of people who had their guns confiscated after a protection from abuse order; partnering with judges to hold status hearings after a protection from abuse order is issued to be sure it is being implemented successfully; and making sure that the paper protection from abuse order specifically mentions firearms.

Johnson said he would work on these recommendations at the city level.

“We are advocating for policies that are survivor-centric,” said Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

According to Fran Healy, special adviser to the Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, between 2017 and 2021, domestic assaults increased by 18% in the city, but domestic assaults with a gun increased by 100% in the same time period.

“Men have grown up in violent families and neighborhoods and have seen trauma,” said Teresa White-Walston, acting co-executive director, WOAR Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence. “They are acting out and playing out the same behavior.”

The Philadelphia Police Department defines “domestic disputes” as being between any family members, roommates or intimate partners, which is in line with the way national law enforcement does.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by an intimate partner to maintain power and control over another partner. But advocates said it can also be stalking, unwanted texts or social media bullying.

In addition, domestic violence affects people regardless of social economic status, age, gender, race or ethnicity. Over a lifetime, one in five women and one in seven men, nationally report suffering from some form of physical violence from an intimate partner. And about two in five transgender people have reported domestic violence.

When firearms are involved in domestic violence disputes, it can quickly turn lethal, several panelists said, for victims, perpetrators, bystanders and even first responders.

During the pandemic, there was an increase of incidents of domestic violence across the nation, a result of stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19, according to analysis of FBI statistics by Everytown for Gun Safety. The study showed that homicides involving intimate partners rose by 25% nationwide in 2020, compared with the previous year.

The panelists included Healy; Frank Vanore, PPD chief inspector; Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal; Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Spencer Cantrell, director of federal affairs, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence; Susan B. Sorenson, professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Joanna Otero-Cruz, executive director, Women Against Abuse; White-Walston, acting co-executive director, WOAR; Shakina Rush, founder of She Is Us, Inc. and Christine Joy Brunson, executive director of the Purple House Project.

On March 9, the U.S. House passed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, one of President Biden’s priorities. It had expired in 2019. But the bill contains the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which the Republicans advocated for. It would have prohibited intimate partners, not just spouses, from owning firearms after being convicted of domestic violence.

Johnson said he would speak to the Philadelphia congressional delegation about it.

From The Philadelphia Tribune