Uncovering deadly protection order loopholes

Posted at 10:59 PM, May 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-16 22:59:10-04

An exclusive 5 On Your side investigation has uncovered deadly protection order loopholes allowing abusers to legally purchase weapons in federally licensed gun shops across the country.

While protection orders remain a key defense for victims of domestic violence, our investigation found abusers often have a deadly window of opportunity to legally purchase as many guns as they can carry.

We found days, weeks--even months can go by between the time a domestic violence victim requests an emergency, temporary protection order and when a suspected abuser appears for a full hearing in court.

Under federal gun laws, only protection orders that have granted a suspected abuser an opportunity for a full hearing are entered into a national crime database that would prevent guns from being sold at federally licensed gun shops.

Federal gun laws do outlaw convicted felons as well as misdemeanor domestic violence abusers from purchasing guns.

Delays can be blamed on courtroom scheduling issues, ability to serve a suspected abuser in a timely manner  with notice that an ex-parte, or emergency, temporary order has been sought or failure to serve suspected abusers who deliberately avoid service such as fleeing last know addresses.

Domestic violence advocacy groups that seek to protect victims from abusers have found that "the hours and days after a victim first seeks help can be the most dangerous".

"So those perpetrators that are likely to use guns or seek guns have all the ability in the world to be able to get a gun during that period of time," says Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.

Even so, the National Rifle Association is concerned over the constitutional rights of guns owners.

"These temporary restraining orders are based simply on a brief statement by an accuser," said Catherine Mortensen of the National Rifle Association.

"So the individual accused, who's in jeopardy of losing his second amendment right to keep and bear arms--they don't have an opportunity to go to the judge or tell their side of the story and we are very concerned about hat."

Mortensen also pointed to a 2006 study of intimate partner homicide that "found firearm prohibitions based on state-level domestic violence misdemeanor convictions have no effect on reducing intimate partner homicide nor do laws which require police officers to confiscate firearms at the scene of a domestic violence call."

Mortensen also cited a U.S. Department of Justice report that found domestic violence declined 64 percent from 1994-2012.

Still, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence argued "the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent."

And the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University reported that from 1980 to 2008, "approximately 40 percent of female homicide victims--in cases where the victim-offender relationship was know--were killed by either a current or former intimate partner and over half of these cases the perpetrator used a gun".