As service providers, safety planning is at the core of the work you do every day with survivors and their communities. This content is designed to support you in that work, with a specific focus on safety planning when firearms are present.
Access our toolkit for a printable version of a safety planning conversation checklist.Download
It’s important to discuss the extreme risks associated with the presence of firearms in domestic violence situations and share ways of increasing safety and decreasing risks. Clear communication with survivors about whether the person who harmed them has access to firearms, the risks involved, and tools available can be critical for a survivor to make informed decisions.
Please note that discussions about firearms can be uncomfortable and raise concerns about a survivor’s access or ownership of firearms. Confidentiality is critical to support safety in these situations.
It can be challenging to prioritize a discussion about firearms given the multiple safety considerations involved in developing a tailored safety plan.
Find questions on P. 10 to help you gather the info you need and guide the survivor in making choices that make sense for them.Open PDF
Research has shown that homicides are reduced by 16 percent when firearms relinquishment or surrender policies are enforced.1M. Zeoli, et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations With Intimate Partner Homicide,” American Journal of Epidemiology 187, no. 11 (2018): 2365–2371. See also, Carolina Díez, et al., “State Intimate Partner Violence-Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015,” Annals of Internal Medicine 167, no. 8 (2017): 536-543.
A California analysis showed that “purchasing a handgun provides no protection against homicide among women and is associated with an increase in their risk for intimate partner homicide.”1Garen Wintemute et al., “Increased Risk of Intimate Partner Homicide Among California Women Who Purchased Handguns,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41, no. 2 (2003): 282.
The civil legal system offers several different types of restraining orders – most of which automatically prohibit the restrained person from having or buying firearms and ammunition. Because domestic violence involves not only risks associated with firearms but also many other issues impacting a survivor’s safety, a Domestic Violence Restraining Order will provide more protection than a Gun Violence Restraining Order if a survivor chooses to pursue a legal remedy.
Get the printable toolkit and read the chart on P. 2 to understand the key differences among the various types of civil orders.
Criminal remedies (e.g. arrest, prosecution, and criminal protective orders) and admission to a mental health facility under certain circumstances will also result in firearm prohibitions.
Service providers should clearly communicate to survivors that Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs) are the only civil restraining order that DOES NOT include a named, protected party, CANNOT order the restrained party to stay away from a location, and DOES NOT include any orders other than prohibiting ownership or purchase of firearms and ammunition.
Although the presence of a firearm in the home increases their risk of severe violence and lethality, some survivors will continue to own firearms despite these risks. In these cases, it’s important to educate them about the risk posed by the presence of firearms, discuss safe gun storage (this linked resource covers 6 basic gun safety rules), and ensure that their safety plan addresses the issue.
Many survivors will not want to engage with the criminal or civil legal systems. This reluctance may be especially prevalent with Black, Indigenous/Native, and other survivors of color, immigrant survivors, LGBTQ+ survivors, or any survivor who is part of a marginalized group.
Survivors should be informed about services that are completely separate from the criminal or civil legal systems. Specific to firearms, there are several ways to reduce risks.
Voluntary removal of firearms and ammunition OR ensuring firearms are stored properly, locked, and unloaded.
Becoming educated about the risks and data associated with firearms.
Considerations around contacting workplaces or other locations or people that may be at risk.
As service providers, we need to treat all surviors as the unique individuals they are and help them seek the safety measure that best fits their needs. Providing space for survivors to share the fullness of their lives during safety planning can help achieve a broader sense of safety.
Share information about the range of firearms risks to increase awareness.
Build trust with those in crisis so that you can have critical conversations about whether they or their partner or family member owns or has access to firearms.
Be prepared to help plan for safety around firearm access in intimate partner violence cases.
There are other legal remedies and protections to support survivors. The Family Violence Appellate Project provides a legal resource library with more information about all legal protections.
Many survivors will not want to engage with the criminal or civil legal systems. This reluctance may be especially prevalent when working with Black, Indigenous/Native, and other survivors of color, LGBTQ+ survivors, immigrant survivors, or any survivor who is part of a marginalized group. Safety planning should never require that the person experiencing harm engage with the legal system.