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Report: Guns in Home to Blame as Domestic Violence Deaths Surge in Phoenix

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The latest domestic violence statistics from Phoenix show what victims, survivors, and advocates already know — domestic violence escalates when a gun is present.

Nationally, a woman is five times more likely to be killed when there is a gun in the residence, according to a Everytown for Gun Safety report.

Police data shows guns are the primary weapon used in domestic violence-related murders in Phoenix in 76 percent of cases during the past year.

In 2014, there were 15 domestic violence deaths in Phoenix, with five cases linked to firearms. In 2016, that number jumped to 29 deaths with more than 20 cases linked to firearms, according to the review.

The Phoenix Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team used an Arizona murder-suicide as its case study for the 2016-17 report released this month. 

The case study investigated involves an on-and-off-again couple. The report omits the names and addresses.

The couple married in 2006 but divorced just two years later after the husband attempted to strangle his wife. Strangulation was not legally considered a form of domestic violence in Arizona until 2010, leaving the husband without a domestic violence conviction.

In 2009, they remarried and started a family.

After continued abuse, the wife decided to leave with the children after police were involved during a verbal argument.

The victim then returned to her husband, as victims often do. On average, it takes seven times for a victim to successfully leave their abusive partner, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

A year later, the husband reportedly attempted suicide and police reports show an alleged mental-health diagnosis. Police would later find a filled prescription for anxiety medication. Police reports also show that the victim disclosed to family members that her husband was physically abusing their son.

During this time, the victim developed an online relationship with a man who lived out of state. When her husband found out about this relationship, he called the man and threatened him to stay away from his wife. Around this time, she filed for divorce but continued to live with him.

One week later, the husband legally purchased a 9 mm handgun from a licensed gun dealer.

The next day, after denying her husband sex, the victim spoke to her online friend while in the bathroom. She ended the call when her husband entered the bathroom. Within 30 minutes, her husband shot her dead.

He then proceeded to take pictures of her body and send them to her online friend and threatened him that he would be next. The husband continued to send out the photo of his dead wife to her friend with the message “Just shot [victim’s name], sorry everybody.”

He attempted to clean up the crime scene before calling the police. He then left in his car alone and shot himself with the same 9 mm handgun. The couple's three children were reportedly asleep in the house during the incident.

If the strangulation case had been on the husband's record, it may have prevented him from purchasing a gun legally. This may not have stopped him, though, said Shannon Schell, director of public policy of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

With Arizona’s legal loopholes like no background checks necessary at gun shows or through third parties, the access to guns in the state directly correlates to their use in domestic violence cases, she said.

A report found that 62 percent of Arizona women killed in domestic violence incidents are shot to death by their partners. This rate of domestic violence deaths is 45 percent higher than the national average, according to the report, co-authored by the coalition and Everytown based on homicides in Arizona from 2009 to 2013.

“The link between firearms and domestic violence is strong,” Schell said. “We need to look at our laws if we are going to stem this violence in Arizona.”

The coalition supports universal background checks for all gun purchases, stricter protective orders and a federal ruling that classifies dating relationships within domestic violence cases, Schell said.

Separately, the Phoenix review team suggests legislators should weigh the options of waiting periods for purchasing guns.

Chandler attorney and criminal law specialist Marc Victor doesn't believe waiting periods will change anything.

“The issue isn't the guns," Victor said. "The gun doesn't do anything. It sits on the table. It's the disposition of the person using the gun. Bad guys can use knives; they can use their hands to bash their wives.”

Advocates of the Second Amendment argue it's the person, not the weapon, responsible for gun violence. This leads to a chicken and the egg scenario. Would an abuser have killed their partner regardless of a gun being present or is it the presence of a gun that leads to fatalities?

Victor's stance is there is no argument about whether guns kill people. People kill people.

"It's the truth," Victor said. "It's like gravity. It's a fact. It's a paper weight until someone uses it."

Victor, who is the only attorney authorized to speak at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix, said he believes gun violence is a symptom of a larger issue.

“Bad guys do bad things, but we need to face reality," he said. "We can pass a law that says bad guys can't do bad things but the nature of bad guys is that they don't care.”

Instead, Victor suggests legislators should shift their focus to ending drug wars, strengthening capitalist business incentives and property rights and lastly, prioritizing rehabilitation over punishment for those who are incarcerated.

The Domestic Violence Fatality Review detailing the 2016-17 statistics was submitted to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Each of the 12 review teams will submit their findings which will be forwarded to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to review this month.

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