Strengthen Firearm Dispossession

  • Guns are used to kill women in the majority of intimate partner homicides.
  • The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%.
  • Domestic violence incidents involving firearms are twelve times more likely to result in death than incidents involving other weapons or bodily force.
  • Of police officers slain while responding to domestic disputes, 95% of them were killed with firearms. 

In Tennessee, when a person is deemed by a court to be prohibited from having firearms, either because they are subject to an order of protection, have been convicted of a crime, or have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, they are required to terminate possession of all firearms within 48 hours.  The termination of possession is called dispossession.

Individuals required to dispossess firearms currently have three options. They can relinquish their firearms to law enforcement, they can sell their firearms to a licensed dealer (a licensed dealer is someone who has a Federal Firearms License, or “FFL”), or they can transfer them to a third party who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms. Those required to dispossess are instructed to do so by the court. They must also complete and return a form to the court attesting that they relinquished all firearms. Currently, there is no legal consequence for not returning the form.

Third parties who take possession of firearms are not required to complete any legal paperwork acknowledging the responsibility that they are undertaking. The offender is not required to provide the name or address of the third party.  The third party does not have to sign any documents, nor are they required to undergo a background check to determine whether or not they are legally allowed to possess firearms.  It is not currently against the law for the third party to return firearms to the offender.

This is a dangerous loophole that we seek to close.

Tennessee is 5th in the nation for women murdered by men, according to the latest data from the Violence Policy Center.  The majority are killed with guns, by a man they know, generally a current or former intimate partner. Since 2000, Tennessee has been in the top ten states for women murdered by men every year except for 2007 when the state was ranked twelfth.

Dispossession is not just an issue that pertains to domestic violence.  The Waffle House shooting raised questions about dispossession as well.  The shooter was prohibited from possessing firearms in Illinois. His father allegedly returned his firearms to him, knowing his son was prohibited from possessing them and that he was planning to move to Tennessee. Although this transfer appears to have taken place in Illinois, Tennessee district attorneys confirmed that even if the transfer had taken place in Tennessee, the father would not be charged as there is no Tennessee law addressing a third party returning firearms to a prohibited person.

Many states allow firearms to only be surrendered to law enforcement or sold to a licensed dealer. Of the thirteen states that allow third party dispossession, Tennessee laws and process are by far the weakest. 

Working in conjunction with the Metro Nashville Office of Family Safety, numerous domestic violence advocacy agencies, the Metro Nashville Police Department Domestic Violence Unit, district attorneys, and judges, we are advocating for legislation that would eliminate third party dispossession. 

Click here to read our comprehensive report on firearm dispossession, including a state by state review of domestic violence, firearms, and dispossession law.  See below for lists of various states and their dispossession options. 

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

A study published in 2017 by by Professor Michael Siegel of Boston University in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined states that go beyond federal law and require abusers to relinquish their weapons to police. The study found that such states had 14 percent lower rates of intimate partner homicide committed with guns than states that lacked a process for relinquishment. The drop was so pronounced that it drove down rates for all domestic murders, including those committed without guns, by 10 percent.

A map in Siegel’s paper lays out some geographic trends when it comes to laws and rates of domestic murder: Throughout the Southeast, where states have some of the loosest gun laws and police the fewest tools for seizing weapons from abusers, rates of domestic homicide are among the highest in the country. Tennessee’s rate is in the top ten. This is not surprising as Tennessee is consistently in the top ten states for women murdered by men.

ADDITIONAL READING

TCA § 39-13-111 – Tennessee Code on Firearm Surrender

TN gun de-possession laws enable offenders to continue abuse – Fox 17 – June 2018

Tennessee officials frustrated by inability to keep guns away from felons – Fox 17 – May 2018

Guns illegal for domestic abusers in Tennessee, but there’s no way to check – WKRN – November 2017

Loopholes give domestic abusers easy access to guns – WREG – April 2016

STATE DISPOSSESSION LAW SUMMARY

A number of states do not have a third party option. Some states allow the offender to sell their firearms to dealer with a federal firearm licenses (FFL) or to surrender them to law enforcement, while other states simply require that the firearms be surrendered to law enforcement.

NOTE: The Violence Policy Center (VPC) rank and the Homicide Rate per 100k Females are based on the annual VPC report, When Men Murder Women report. The Gifford Gun Law Grade is from their annual analysis of state gun laws. The CDC Gun Overall Death Rate Rank and CDC Gun Death Rate per 100 are from the Centers for Disease Control WISQARS database and account for all gun deaths.  All data is from 2016.

The 2016 national average rate for female homicides was 1.3 per 100k females. The 2016 national average rate of gun death was 13.01 per 100k people.  All rates that are above the national average are noted in red.

For the states that have specific laws regarding dispossession of firearms following an order of protection or domestic violence conviction:

These states require offenders to surrender their firearms to law enforcement or peace officer only (cannot surrender to third party or sell firearms to a licensed dealer, or FFL)

These states require offenders to surrender their firearms to law enforcement or to be sold to a licensed dealer (cannot surrender to a third party)

These states require offenders to surrender their firearms to law enforcement or to be sold to a licensed dealer and also allow firearms to be transferred to a third party. However, unlike Tennessee, most states have very strict requirements for third party dispossession.

Colorado The third party must undergo an ID Services Background check to show that he or she is legally permitted to possess firearms. Both the offender and the third party must sign and affidavit in front of a notary.

Connecticut – The offender has two days from the event causing the ineligibility to possess firearms to sell or transfer their firearms.  The person must obtain an authorization number for the sale or transfer from the Commissioner of Emergency Public Services and Public Protection and submit a sale or transfer to the Commissioner within two business days. However, pursuant to a 2016 law, anyone who becomes ineligible as a result of a domestic violence protective order must sell and firearms and ammunition only to a licensed dealer or surrender them to law enforcement.

Florida – The third party is required to submit a signed affidavit to the court.

Iowa – Iowa requires guns to be surrendered to law enforcement or to a third party, described as a “qualified person in this state, as determined by the state. If the court is unable to determine a qualified person, the firearms must be transferred to the county sheriff or local law enforcement.

North Carolina – Firearms must be immediately surrendered to law enforcement, but a third party can can file a motion requesting the return of the offender’s firearms to said third party.

Minnesota – The offender must file proof of transfer within two business days of the transfer.  The proof of transfer must specify whether the firearms were permanently or temporally transferred and include details of the transfer.

Oregon – The third party must sign and file an affidavit and, unless they are a family member, must appear before a licensed dealer and undergo a background check.

Pennsylvania – Third party must accompany the defendant and report to the sheriff’s office in the county where the order was issued. If the sheriff determines the third party is not prohibited from possessing firearms, and confirms the third party has executed the required affidavits, the sheriff will issue a safekeeping permit to the third party.

Tennessee – An offender is issued a form where they indicate whether or not they possess firearms. If they indicate they own or possess firearms, they check a box to specify whether they sold their guns or transferred them to a third party. The offender is not required to provide any information about the third party, not even the name of the third party, to law enforcement or to the court.

Texas – The third party must sign an affidavit and the respondent is required to fax or email the affidavit and receipt from the third party facility within one day of receiving service of the ex parte order.

Washington – The defendant and third party must be present in court prior to any transfer, and oral and written warning are provided regarding directive not to permit possession of firearms by the prohibited person and criminal liability for doing so. The third party must undergo a full criminal background check. Victims are are also provided with an opportunity to object to a third party transfer on safety grounds. Additionally, victims are notified third party transfers and to who the firearms have been transferred.

West Virginia – The respondent must provided written proof of the firearms surrendered on a form required by the state. Written proof shall include a description of all firearms surrendered and the name and address of the third party who has taken possession of respondent’s firearms of their legal duties under state and federal law.

Wisconsin – Both the respondent and third party must attend a Firearm Surrender Hearing. In some counties, firearms must first be surrendered to the sheriff. If the third party comes to court for the injunction of Firearm Surrender Hearing, and the court approves him/her, then the person may be able to pick up firearms from the sheriff.  The victim has the option tho object to the third party. Additionally, the third party is given notice of penalties for non-compliance.