Domestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol
In the summer of 2005, the Homicide Prevention Act became law (R.I.G.L. §8-8.1-3 and §15-15-3), and Rhode Island became the 41st state to restrict the possession of firearms when a restraining order has been issued.
In September 2006, the RICADV had the opportunity to bring together representatives from the criminal justice field and domestic violence advocates to attend a national summit addressing the issue of firearms and domestic violence.
The group returned from the conference and established the Firearms and Domestic Violence Taskforce (FADVTF). Their goal was to develop and recommend policies, protocols and procedures that would strengthen the judicial, law enforcement and advocate response for cases of domestic abuse involving firearms.
Their first project was to create a uniform model protocol for law enforcement agencies to use when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms, which resulted in the report Domestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol.
The information presented in this report explains the research process and findings and provides recommendations to ensure that the protections provided by R.I.G.L. §8-8.1-3 and §15-15-3 will help save the lives of those victims whose abusers own firearms.
For more information about domestic violence and firearms, view our fact sheet here.
Before writing the protocol, the FADVTF first needed to identify the current practices that police departments were utilizing and the challenges they were facing with these types of cases. To do so, they decided to conduct a statewide survey of all police departments.
In February 2008, Professor Daniel J. Knight from Salve Regina University’s Criminal Justice Program agreed to direct the survey project.
Professor Knight’s graduate student research team conducted a statewide survey of local law enforcement agencies and the Rhode Island State Police. The research team used three data collection methods:
- Surveying local law enforcement agencies to determine their current practices and protocols when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms
- Conducting three key informant interviews to gain further insight on the issue from state and federal perspectives
- Reviewing and analyzing state and federal laws relating to firearms and domestic violence
The research team completed their data collection in January 2009.
The key informant interviews revealed that nearly all of Rhode Island’s law enforcement agencies have common practices for assessing the presence of weapons at a scene and for the removal of firearms when an incident results in an arrest or when a protective order exists.
However, according to the survey results, the practices among police departments differ when they encounter non-arrest situations, which occur when there is no probable cause for arrest or when there is a question regarding the existence of a valid restraining order. Under these circumstances, police departments utilize an assortment of practices to determine if firearm seizure is warranted.
In addition, the research team concluded that law enforcement officers have different interpretations of Rhode Island General Law §15-15-3 (5) and that the statewide database, RONCO (Restraining Orders No Contact Orders), is not a reliable tool to validate the existence of a restraining order or No Contact Order.
After reviewing the results of the survey, key informant interviews, analysis of state and federal laws and policies from other jurisdictions, the FADVTF proposed the following recommendations:
- Prohibit the possession of firearms by a third party residing in the same household or building as the defendant
Law Enforcement Recommendations
- Conduct follow-up investigations whenever the defendant does not surrender firearms in compliance with a restraining order
- Revoke any existing gun license and forward the information to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Division Counsel, since federal law prohibits possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a domestic violence-related offense
- Develop, create and distribute a model uniform policy for the police response to domestic violence calls involving firearms (see the “Model Law Enforcement Policy” that begins on page 11 in the report)
- Address RONCO data entry issues to improve the accuracy and timeliness of information
- Educate third parties who agree to take possession of firearms for defendants on their obligations under state and federal law; prosecute those who fail to comply
- Offer key stakeholders training on firearm laws