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Domestic Violence and Firearms: Protecting Victims of DV

Angela Downes* Professor, UNT Dallas College of Law




According to the Gun Violence Archives, 12,941 Americans have died in gun-related incidents this year.¹ There have been 169 mass shootings this year alone.² The issue of gun violence compounds with each passing day and permeates every aspect of life: from the recent Bruen case (where the Supreme Court found that gun owners have a constitutional right to carry guns in all places outside of their homes and that laws that restricted concealed carry licensing laws violated the Second Amendment);³ to the recent 5th Circuit ruling in the Rahimi case, which allows people with domestic violence protective orders against them to possess firearms; to the constant school shootings and the continued police brutality. Despite robust legislative action with respect to regulation of the purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms, and proposals to substantially curtail ownership of firearms, there is no definitive singular way to address increasing gun violence. While gun violence continues to increase, finding solutions from the fallout are slow to emerge.

I. United States v. Rahimi

During the winter of 2020, Zackey Rahimi was involved in five shootings around Arlington, Texas. In one incident, he shot at someone’s house after selling them prescription drugs. After getting into a car accident, he shot at a car, left the scene and returned to the accident scene in another vehicle and shot at the car again.Three days before Christmas he shot at a constable’s car. After New Year’s, he fired shots into the air outside of a Whataburger after his friend’s credit card was declined. During all these incidents, Rahimi was not legally permitted to have guns because of a restriction from a February 2020 protective order, issued after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.After the shootings, police executed a search warrant of his home and found a handgun and rifle, of which possession violated both state and federal law.¹⁰ Rahimi was indicted by a federal grand jury for possession of a firearm while under a domestic violence protective order.¹¹ He subsequently argued that that the charge violated his constitutional rights and the courts initially disagreed.¹² The case was then reheard by the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit struck down the federal law prohibiting the possession of firearms by people subject to domestic violence protection orders.¹³ The ruling signaled that the rule prohibiting abusers from possessing firearms is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.¹⁴ In 2022, in New York State and Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court established a new standard that modern gun control laws must be “consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding,”¹⁵ and the Fifth Circuit applied this new standard in Rahimi. Writing for the court, Justice Cory T. Wilson opined, “Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless among ‘the people’ entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal.”¹⁶

The court’s decision in Rahimi applies in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This case will likely make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court through the appellate process.

A. What does Rahimi mean for domestic violence victims?

The impact of the case is potentially catastrophic for domestic violence victims. Practitioners and advocates agree that disarming abusive and dangerous domestic violence behavior is the first step to avoiding future violence. The Court focuses not on the safety of domestic violence victims and public health of the larger community, but on ensuring that perpetrators have uninterrupted access to firearms. The statistics are clear: the likelihood for lethality increases when there is access to guns. Under this ruling, known abusers will be allowed to keep their guns, and perhaps get more, without consideration that the weapons might be used to coerce, injure, or kill victims.

II. Protective Orders

A protective order is an order issued by a court that tells a perpetrator that they must stay away from a victim. Protective orders are one of the only tools available to victims to stop the abuse. If a perpetrator violates an order, a victim can call the police and the perpetrator will be arrested. The orders remain in effect even if the victim moves to another state.¹⁷ The orders are more effective when it is clear when the perpetrator knows what is allowed and what is not. Generally, protective orders contain language that states that perpetrators must stay away from victims; may not communicate, harass or stalk the victim or the victim’s family; the perpetrator may be ordered to attended specialized counseling; and the protective order will most likely be in effect for at least two years.¹⁸ Most importantly, protective orders are most effective when firearm possession is prohibited.¹⁹ They are still the most effective tool that victims have against domestic violence harassment, stalking, and violence.

A. Emergency Protective Orders

Emergency Protective Orders are available if the perpetrator is in jail.²⁰ It becomes police-enforceable immediately after the magistrate judge signs the order and gives the perpetrator a copy. The victim, police officer, magistrate or the District Attorney’s Office can request an Emergency Protective Order.²¹ These orders generally contain the same provisions as the standard two-year Protective Order but operates to protect domestic violence victims while a case against the perpetrator is pending and before a Final Protective Order is issued.²²

B. Who can apply for a protective order?

Any adult who lives in a household experiencing domestic violence or family violence may apply for a protective order for themselves or for their children.²³ For a protective order for domestic violence, the applicant (or the children the application is filed for), must have been the victim of physical abuse OR the threat of imminent danger within the last 90 days AND one of the following relationships or circumstances applies to the victim and the abuser:

  1. Spouse or former spouse

  2. Relative related by blood

  3. In-law related by marriage

  4. Biological parents of the same child

  5. Live-in boyfriend or live-in girlfriend

  6. Former live-in boyfriend or former live-in girlfriend

  7. Members of the same household

  8. Dating relationship

  9. Third-Party Dating/Marriage

  10. Victim of stalking

  11. Victim of sexual assault²⁴

The protective order may be filed in the county where you live or where the incident occurred.²⁵

The World Health Organization and the U.N. called domestic violence a “shadow pandemic.”²⁶ During the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of domestic violence increased because victims were locked down with abusers, and many shelters struggled to safely provide services. Domestic violence incidents rose in the United States by about 8.1% after the imposition of pandemic-related lockdowns, according to an analysis by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice.²⁷ At the same time, gun purchase rates steadily increased.²⁸

Domestic violence and gun violence are closely intertwined. Firearms contribute significantly to domestic violence as they are used by perpetrators to threaten, coerce, control, and kill victims. Around 4.5 million women in the United States have been threatened with a gun and nearly 1 million women have been shot or threatened by an intimate partner.²⁹ These threats often escalate to murder. Alarmingly, According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun.³⁰ Like many other forms of gun violence, the deadly intersection of guns and domestic violence has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, particularly for Black, Native American/Alaska Native, and Latinx women. The violence can also affect those close to the situation. 59.1% of mass shootings are domestic violence related.³¹

The long-term impact of Rahimi is still unknown, but it is likely there will be an increase in domestic violence murders. Research is clear that if guns are present in domestic violence circumstances, the likelihood of death increases. We must continue to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence do not have access to guns.

III. Creating a Safer Environment for Domestic Violence Victims through Legislation

There are several bills in the current Texas legislature focused on domestic violence issues. Here are some notable bills that, if they become law, will positively increase safety and care for victims:

  • H.B. 79 is related to employment leave for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.³²

  • H.B. 482 would prohibit those convicted of certain family violence cases from owning firearms.³³

  • H.B. 1796 would require family violence centers to clearly provide services that are effective for victims, such as 24-hour shelters and crisis hotlines, and demonstrate “culturally relevant” and “trauma-informed” advocacy efforts.³⁴

  • H.B. 2229, the “Natalia Cox Act,” would require police officers and medical professionals to provide a written list of resources and legal options available to those experiencing domestic or dating violence.³⁵

Guns and domestic violence are a deadly combination. The outcomes are clear: if perpetrators have access to guns, the likelihood that victims will be hurt or killed increases. Victims deserve to have all of the protections available to ensure their safety. Not only do we need effective laws on the books but also, we must ensure that all provisions are available and upheld. Without this standard, perpetrators will not fully be held accountable, and more victims will be hurt and killed. This accountability is not possible if perpetrators are allowed to possess firearms.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please see the local and national resources and contact information below:

NATIONAL RESOURCES Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence 1-888-792-2873 National Domestic Violence Hotline Local Resources Search Safe Horizon

National Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474 The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence National Resource Center on Domestic Violence 1-800-537-2238

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health 1-312-726-7020 ext. 2011

DALLAS-FORT WORTH METROPLEX RESOURCES The Family Place Offers animal-friendly shelters Dallas County District Attorney’s Office (Protective Orders) Family Violence Division 214-653-3528 The Potter’s House Dallas Safe Haven Offers shelters and resources in Tarrant County

Viola’s House Services and housing for teenage mothers aged 12-21 Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support

SUPERVISED CHILD VISITATION WOMEN OF COLOR Faith and Liberty’s Place 8915 Harry Hines Blvd. Dallas, TX 75235 (214) 956-0100 INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

AFRICAN AMERICAN/LATINA/LATINO The Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute 1-770-909-0715 Casa de Esperanza Línea de crisis 24-horas/24-hour crisis line 1-651-772-1611

INDIGENOUS WOMEN/ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDER National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center 855-649-7299 Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence 1-415-954-9988

DIFFERENTLY ABLED Domestic Violence Initiative (303) 839-5510 (877) 839-5510 National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women 1-800-903-0111 ext. 3 Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN) 202-559-5366


*Professor Angela Downes is a Professor at UNT Dallas College of Law where she serves as Assistant Director of Experiential Education. Professor Downes teaches clinical courses, a 40-hour mediation course and Domestic Violence and the Law. Her scholarship focuses on diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural responsiveness and issues of interpersonal violence including domestic violence, human trafficking, and child abuse.

Suggested Citation: Angela Downes, Domestic Violence and Firearms: Protecting Victims of DV, ACCESSIBLE LAW, Summer 2023, at 13.

Domestic Violence and Firearms [Issue 13]
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[1] Gun Violence Archive 2023, Gun Violence Archive, (Apr. 22, 2023).

[2] Id.

[3] New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2120–2121 (2022).

[4] United States v. Rahimi, 61 F.4th 443 (5th Cir. 2023).

[5] Id. at 448.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 448–49.

[8] Id. at 449.

[9] Id.

[11] Id. at 448–50.

[12] Id. at 448.

[14] Id. at 460–61.

[15] New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2126 (2022).

[16] United States v. Rahimi, 61 F.4th 443, 453 (5th Cir. 2023).

[17] The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) requires jurisdictions honor and enforce protection orders issued in other states. See 18 U.S.C. § 226(a).

[18] Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 85.022(a)(1)(b).

[19] Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Domestic Violence & Firearms in Texas, (last updated Jan. 5, 2023).

[20] Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 83.001.

[21] Id. § 82.002(a)–(e).

[22] Id. § 83.002.

[23] Id. § 82.002(a).

[24] Id. §§ 83.001, 71.0021 (defining “dating violence”), 71.004 (defining “family violence”).

[25] Id. § 82.003.

[26] The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19, UN Women, (last visited Apr. 23, 2023).

[27] Alex R. Piquero et al., Nat. Comm. on COVID-19 and Crim. Justice, Domestic Violence During COVID-19: Evidence from a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis3 (Feb. 2021),

[28] Press Release, NORC, One in Five American Households Purchased a Gun During the Pandemic (Mar. 24, 2022) (available at

[29] Susan B. Sorenson & Rebecca A. Schut, Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature, 19 Trauma Violence Abuse 431, 431,

[30] Firearm Homicide, The Educ. Fund to Stop Gun Violence (last updated Feb. 2021),

[31] Lisa B. Geller, Marisa Booty & Cassandra K. Crifasi, The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014–2019, Injury Epidemiology, May 31, 2021, at 4,

[32] H.B. 79, 88th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2023),

[33] H.B. 482, 88th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2023),

[34] H.B. 1796, 88th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2023),

[35] H.B. 2229, 88th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2023),



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