New study looking at how guns increase risk of domestic violence homicides

SA abuse survivor said the gun in her home made it almost impossible to leave

A domestic violence victim is 450 percent more likely to be killed by an intimate partner, if there is a gun in the house. That’s according to groundbreaking research in 2003, and researchers worry it’s even higher today.

SAN ANTONIO – Domestic violence is a terrifying situation that many people don’t survive.

Texas has an average of 153 intimate partner homicides per year of women killed by a male partner, a number that’s doubled over the past 10 years, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV).

The groundbreaking research on the subject by Jacquelyn Campbell established the Danger Assessment, which is the only risk assessment intended to be used in collaboration with intimate partner violence survivors to prevent homicide.

Now, leading experts in the nation, including in San Antonio, are working on updating the Danger Assessment by finding out more about how guns affect intimate partner homicide.

TCFV Coordinated Community Response Manager Mikisha Hooper is helping lead that research in Texas.

“The original study looked at 11 urban cities across the country. Houston was the only city in Texas that was reflected, so now we’ll have more of an understanding of the difference of rural and metropolitan and urban communities,” Hooper said. “That research also mainly focused on females killed by male partners. We are going to expand that and make sure it’s inclusive of the entire LGBTQ+ community, plus looking at men killed by their female partners.”

The study began two years ago and will remain in its research phase for one more year before assessment.

“(The study has) everything related to firearm possession. We want to understand -- ‘What were people’s relationships to guns? Do they have guns for hunting or protection, or are they a collector? Do the victims have a gun for self-protection?’ -- so we can really understand the dynamics that are at play in these relationships and understand how interventions can be designed to support them,” Hooper said.

The research mainly involves pulling law enforcement records surrounding intimate partner homicide cases.

The San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office have already agreed to participate.

“But what we’re finding is most homicide victims aren’t engaging law enforcement, so one of the things we do in the study is connect with a family member or friend who knew the victim well and who knew a lot about their relationship,” Hooper said.

The goal is to be able to update the tools and intervention methods being used in domestic violence response teams and collaborative commissions across the nation.

Hooper uses Bexar County’s Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence (CCDV) as an example of the work that can already be done in communities when it comes to guns in the hands of abusers.

“We have state and federal laws in Texas that would remove firearms or prohibit firearm possession from people who are abusive to their partners and who have been charged with domestic violence,” Hooper said.

She said communities often don’t know how to enforce that or maybe have limited resources.

At the direction of the CCDV, the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court recently approved a large chunk of money for domestic violence resources.

Some of that will go toward hiring an officer who will keep track of orders for convicted abusers to turn in their firearms and enforce them if they don’t.

“We could really be saving lives just by enforcing the laws that we have on the books in Texas and federal laws that apply to prohibitions on firearms by domestic violence offenders,” Hooper said.

Hooper explained that laws and interventions removing guns from dangerous abusers don’t just save the victims but communities and law enforcement too.

“Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls they respond to,” Hooper said.

She also mentioned mass shootings.

“What we know is, the higher the number of victims in a mass shooting, the more likely that person had a domestic violence background, a domestic violence criminal history, or they were targeting their partner in that,” Hooper explained.

While the research into other interventions continues for another year, a survivor wants people in dangerous relationships to know it’s possible to leave.

“There were days that I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the following day, but I did find the courage to leave, and it was the best choice I have ever made,” she said.

She has a job she loves, just bought her first house and her children are finally healthy and happy.

If you or someone you know is suffering in an abusive relationship, there is help available.

There is a list of resources on KSAT’s Domestic Violence Page, including the Family Violence Prevention Services that runs the shelter. Call them at (210) 733-8810 or visit the website.

You can also always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, or visit the website.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.