ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) has tracked 18 domestic homicides so far this year.

“And at least three of those have happened within the past week,” said Becky Smith, MCBW’s program manager.

The back-to-back instances of intimate-partner violence come less than two weeks removed from Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Further, the cluster of domestic murders again sheds light on a serious issue – abusers and their access to guns.

“When an abuser has access to guns the fatality rate for the victim in the relationship rises to 500 percent,” said Smith. “That’s a stunning statistic.”

The overarching issue isn’t the lack of laws intended to keep criminals from guns, it’s that those laws are loosely enforced.

“The feds rarely prosecute [those cases] and there’s no federal database for state domestic assault convictions," said criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino. "Also, Minnesota state law calls for the forfeiture of guns after domestic assault convictions and that law is rarely enforced, too.” 

Without clear enforcement or a public database, the laws are futile, because abusers can covertly keep or purchase guns whether they’ve been charged, convicted or accused of violence in the past by way of an order for protection.

“We really need to enforce the laws that already exist and we also need to have data about the lack of enforcement,” said Smith.

“Everyone is affected by domestic violence… this happens to your friends, your family members, your neighbors, your co-workers,” she said.

According to Everytown Gun Safety Support Fund, a non-profit that seeks to understand gun violence and how to reduce it, the majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence.

Of the 156 mass shootings in the United States in the last seven years, Everytown reports 54 percent were related to domestic or family abuse.

Monday, The New York Times reported on a federal measure, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and that it defines a “domestic abuser” as a national problem because it requires the victim and abuser to have been married, have had a child or have lived together.

This means the federal legislation doesn’t apply to people who are dating or general intimate partners and creates a dangerous loophole known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

The loophole is one Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation to close and to add stalkers to the list of people who should be banned from owning guns.

Addressing the criminal gun access problem on all fronts is imperative because the threat of intimate partner violence remains even long after the victim leaves.

“The threat can always be there,” said Smith.

Last year, at least 21 Minnesotans lost their lives to domestic violence. Eleven of those murders were by way of gunshot wounds according to MCBW’s 2016 Femicide Report.

The report also reveals over the past three years in Minnesota at least half of all intimate-partner murders involved guns.

If you’re experiencing abuse contact Day One at 866-223-1111 to connect with confidential services.