F. Firearm Safety and Addressing Known Lethality Factors

Research has shown that 59% of female homicides were committed with firearms—more than all other means combined.[141] Firearms amplify the inherent power and control dynamics characteristic of abusive intimate relationships. When perpetrators have access to a firearm, the risk of intimate partner murder increases dramatically.[142] National Domestic Violence Hotline survivor callers whose abusers had access to firearms reported 10% said their abuser had fired a gun during a domestic violence incident, 22% said their abuser had explicitly threatened to kill them, their children, families, pets, friends, and/or to commit suicide while 67% said they believed their abusers were capable of killing them.[143]

Child welfare professionals may not be aware of an existing dynamic of domestic violence between the parents by the time the case comes to court, unless a mandatory report was made by police who went out on a domestic violence call. In addition, it is unlikely that a child welfare investigator will be immediately aware of whether or not the domestic violence perpetrator owns a firearm.

Questions for Judges to Ask About Firearm Safety:

1. Does the perpetrator own or have access to a gun?

2. Does the perpetrator have any prior history of domestic violence or a history of using weapons (including plea deals and charges that were deferred)?

3. Has the perpetrator ever threatened to kill the survivor parent, the children, or themselves?

4. Has the perpetrator ever threatened the survivor parent with a gun or weapon prior to the hearing?

5. Ask the survivor parent and the perpetrator if there are any guns or weapons in the home. To minimize risks to the survivor parent and children, do not ask the survivor parent questions directly related to their own safety in open court. Instead, involve a domestic violence advocate from your local domestic violence program who could ensure that the survivor has access to information, safety planning and support if they choose.

6. If guns are present and there is concern about how to move forward to decrease the lethality risk for the survivor parent and children, judges are encouraged to reach out to their local Domestic Violence Program or to contact the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Texas Laws Addressing Domestic Violence and Firearms

Texas law prohibits domestic violence and dating violence misdemeanants from possessing firearms for five years after release from confinement or community supervision.

•   Tex. Penal Code § 46.04(b) (Unlawful Possession of a Firearm);

•   Tex. Penal Code § 22.01(a) (Assault);

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3) (Family Violence);

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(b) (Temporary Ex Parte Orders); and

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 85.022 (Requirements of Order Applying to Person Who Committed Family Violence).

Respondents to ex parte and permanent protective orders are prohibited from possessing firearm for the duration of the order.

•   Tex. Penal Code § 46.04(c) (Unlawful Possession of a Firearm);

•   Tex. Penal Code § 25.07(a)(4) (Violation of Certain Court Orders or Conditions of Bond In a Family Violence, Child Abuse or Neglect, Sexual Assault or Abuse, Indecent Assault, Stalking, or Trafficking Case);

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 85.026 (Warning on Protective Order); and

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(3) (Family Violence).

Judges can issue protective orders are authorized to order relief that is necessary to protect survivors.

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(b) (Requirements for Temporary ex Parte Order); and

•   Tex. Fam. Code § 85.022 (Requirements of Order Applying to Person Who Committed Family Violence).