Studies show that abusers who have access to a gun are 500 percent more likely to kill their partners than abusers without guns. That’s why the Lautenberg Amendment was introduced. Officially titled the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, the amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits anyone who’s been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from possessing a firearm (note: people convicted of any type of felony are prohibited possessors, as well).
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Of course, there are problems with the amendment, including the fact that many regard its language as being too ambiguous to enforce uniformly. Some have even argued that the amendment is unconstitutional, conflicting with the second amendment, which grants U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. The ban is also entirely reliant on convictions getting entered into the National Criminal Information Center database, a step that, when overlooked, has proven to be deadly. That’s because, if a conviction isn’t entered into the database, it wouldn’t show up during a background check performed by a gun seller.
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But there’s another big problem with the Lautenberg Amendment, and that is how police officers are often able to skirt it, resulting in them being allowed to keep their weapons—and their jobs.
How Police Officers Get Around the Gun Ban
When a law enforcement officer is accused of domestic abuse, it’s referred to as officer-involved domestic violence (OIDV). It’s unclear whether OIDV is more common than domestic violence among the general public. Studies on the subject have reported a wide range of rates. It’s estimated that OIDV occurs in 20 percent to 40 percent of law enforcement families, according to the International Journal of Police Science and Management. For comparison, 36 percent of all U.S. women and 29 percent of U.S. men have reportedly been raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
And yet, police officers are more likely to avoid conviction when compared with the general population. A review of cases in San Diego revealed that 92 percent of reported domestic violence cases involving the general public are prosecuted as compared with just 42 percent of reported OIDV cases, according to the International Journal. One study found that in 40 percent of OIDV cases, simple assault was the most serious charge. And cases of OIDV are often pled down to avoid an assault charge, avoiding the triggering of the Lautenberg Amendment.
Plea Bargains Explained
A plea bargain is when an offender agrees to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence and/or other charges being dropped. In an OIDV case, the offender might be charged with assault as well as something lesser, such as disturbing the peace. The officer might agree to plead guilty to disturbing the peace in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the assault charge. And without a domestic violence assault conviction, the officer gets to keep his or her weapon.
Police agencies aren’t doing their part to protect victims either. Less than 40 percent of agencies nationwide have policies in place for dealing with OIDV. And when officers plead guilty to non-domestic-violence misdemeanors, agencies are unlikely to terminate their employment.
The Importance of Training
Although the outlook on OIDV appears grim, there is a bit of good news. Training specific to OIDV seems to make a difference. In 2013, researchers from Florida State University worked with police chiefs across the country to develop “The National Prevention Toolkit on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence.” The training program addresses victim vulnerability, how police subculture affects reporting, ethics, professional decision-making and prioritizing victim safety. In 2016, Florida State University followed 852 officers and reported “notable increases in victim support, number of reports filed and arrests” after completing the training.
Of course, there is still a long way to go in getting law enforcement agencies to properly police themselves when it comes to OIDV. If you’re being abused at the hands of a law enforcement officer, read “When Your Abuser is a Police Officer.”
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