Armed & Fabulous? What's Fabulous Is Unarming Batterers and Abusers

"Armed and fabulous" could be a punchline if it weren't such a dangerous premise. We agree that guns are a women's issue, but for very different reasons than the NRA. Guns are a women's issue, simply put, because batterers with guns kill women in America at a rate higher than any other industrial country.
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In an effort to draw support from women, the NRA is attempting to position guns as a women's issue, asserting that females should be "armed and fabulous." Past president of the NRA, Sandra Froman, recently told a group of University of Virginia law students that because women are smaller and weaker than men, they need guns for personal safety. Guns, Froman implied, are the latest way to assert your feminism.

"Armed and fabulous" could be a punchline if it weren't such a dangerous premise. We agree that guns are a women's issue, but for very different reasons. Guns are a women's issue because batterers with guns -- precisely those individuals who should not have access to firearms -- kill women. Our nation, even though most people are in favor of commonsense gun laws, still hasn't put such commonsense measures in place.

American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other industrialized countries, and much of the fatal violence committed against them is carried out by intimate partners -- people they know well. According to the FBI, almost half of murdered women were slain by a current or former husband or boyfriend -- ten times as many as by a stranger. And these numbers miss many of the murders committed by ex-boyfriends who may account for hundreds of the thousands of cases of intimate partner murders that happen each year. Guns are used in at least half of these crimes.

Dr. Campbell's own research has shown that gun access by a batterer is the single-best predictor of whether a woman will be killed by him, and a factor that increases her risk of murder more than five-fold. Abusers use guns to terrorize, too. In a study of more than 400 women in domestic violence shelters in California, two-thirds who reported a firearm in their home said their intimate partner used a gun against them, with nearly two-thirds of those threatening to shoot or kill and five percent actually pulling the trigger.

It is worth noting that mass shootings -- gun slayings that involve the death of four or more people -- disproportionately affect women. In an analysis of mass shootings by the research arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, half of all shooting victims were women, who at the same time make up roughly 15 percent of homicide victims overall. In almost 40 percent of those cases, the shooter murdered or injured a current or former partner, and most of these shootings took place in victims' homes.

And what about the notion that if women were armed, they'd be safer, the NRA's assertion? In the survey of abused women who sought refuge in a shelter, fewer than one in 20 with access to a gun reported having ever used it in self-defense against their abuser. This same study showed that owning a handgun neither increased nor decreased abused women's risk of being killed by a partner. A third study showed that California women who purchased handguns were 50 percent more likely to be murdered, most often by an intimate partner. While this study cannot establish cause and effect (it is possible that women who were at risk for lethal violence were more likely to purchase a handgun), there was no decrease in risk of homicide from strangers. At the very best, handgun purchases did not increase women's safety.

To truly increase women's safety, we need strong laws that keep firearms out of the most dangerous hands based on the best available evidence and strong enforcement of existing laws, a move that most people, including gun owners, support. Background checks and laws restricting domestic abusers from owning weapons not only work, they work well. The 14 states that require gun purchasers to undergo background checks for private gun sales have 46 percent lower rates of intimate partner gun homicides of women than the 36 states that do not require such checks.

There is evidence too that state laws prohibiting domestic abusers from owning firearms reduce intimate partner homicide. In three separate studies, researchers found that states with rules that prevent gun access to those under domestic violence restraining orders have far fewer intimate partner homicides. Unfortunately, many states -- including Virginia -- have no such law, and the Federal laws do not include violent boyfriends and exes.

It's time to close the loopholes that exempt private guns sales and gun shows from background checks; ensure that all states have laws that restrict gun possession by and gun sales to those subject to domestic violence restraining orders and domestic violence felonies; and to amend federal laws to include restrictions on gun ownership by violent boyfriends and exes who perpetrate a substantial proportion of violent crimes with guns resulting in the death of thousands of women. These are measures that just make sense.

Additionally, women need to hear clear, evidence-based messages about firearms and personal protection, facts sorely lacking in the NRA's campaign to encourage women to arm themselves. We know that women are not safer from stranger homicide when carrying a gun for personal protection, and that women who own their own gun are at increased risk for intimate partner homicide.

There is ample evidence that appropriate gun laws save women's lives. We have a public health imperative to act on this evidence.

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