Epidemiology student featured in UNC IGHID report on reconciling guns and health

February 23, 2018

Josie Caves

Josie Caves

Josie Caves, epidemiology doctoral student at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and inaugural recipient of IntraHealth International’s Raluca Iosif Intimate Partner Violence Research Award, was featured recently in a UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases article on gun violence research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Raluca Iosif, who worked at IntraHealth, was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in Durham in fall 2015.

“[Iosif] lived near my cousin, so it really brought my research home for me,” Caves said. “I am honored to be the first recipient of this award, and I feel tremendous pressure to do meaningful research through this grant in her name and for IntraHealth.”

Sadly, the incident involving Iosif is not a rare occurrence. Intimate partner violence involving a firearm is a major public health problem. Every 16 hours, an American woman is killed with a gun wielded by a current or former partner, according to an Associated Press analysis of FBI and state crime data. If a partner has a violent past, there are laws in place that aim to reduce gun access. Caves studies these regulations.

The 1996 Lautenberg Amendment prohibits people convicted of assault of their spouse or child from owning or purchasing a gun. It also bans firearm ownership by people under a permanent protective order. Yet, flaws in this amendment exist, as people do not always relinquish guns they already own.

“Enforcing existing laws around firearm surrender is very challenging for police,” Caves said. “That may be why research shows that laws mandating confiscation of firearms typically are not associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides, while laws restricting an offender’s ability to purchase and possess firearms are.”

That’s why research from the intimate partner violence field suggests that closing the “boyfriend loophole” may have impact. Currently, offenders can only lose their gun rights if they assault a person to whom they are married or with whom they have a child. Changing this federal amendment to include a ban on the ability to purchase a gun by anyone convicted of committing a violent act against a dating partner would help save lives and keep firearms out of the hands of more people with violent tendencies.

Some states have enacted their own laws to close the boyfriend loophole. In fact, a study by researchers at Michigan State University showed a 10 percent lower rate of intimate partner homicide  when firearm restrictions that cover all dating partners were enforced.

Four states have taken the Lautenberg Amendment even further, prohibiting firearm possession and purchases by everyone convicted of a violent misdemeanor, regardless of their relationship to the victim. These four states saw a 23 percent lower rate of intimate partner homicides as compared to states without violent misdemeanor legislation.

“Broadening the definition of domestic violence may help,” Caves said. “My research goal is to flesh out the circumstances where regulations can lower rates of violence and where regulations are unnecessary.”

This article is an excerpt of one written by Morag MacLachlan, posted recently on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

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