Guns, Intimacy and Tragedy for Women

The statistics are horrifyingly real. From 2001 to 2012, the number of women murdered by intimate partners using guns (6,410) exceeded the number of U.S. troops killed in action in the Iraq and Afghan wars combined. Every day in our country, five women are murdered by gunfire. Even the most ardent gun-rights advocates should be appalled by this home grown carnage involving women. As far as intimacy and violence are concerned, our guns are not securing us. They are killing us at home and in our neighborhoods.

In its recent study, "Women Under the Gun," The Center for American Progress sets out the facts explaining how anemic gun laws at both the federal and state levels are allowing women to be killed. First, violence against women is generally a crime of intimacy. In 65 percent of cases, women knew their attackers. Men knew their assailants only 34 percent of the time.

Second, according to the study, a staggering proportion of violence against women is fatal, and guns are a key factor in those deaths. As the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence recognizes, if an abuser owns a firearm, an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed. (Domestic Violence & Firearm Policy Summary at

Put simply, the presence of guns dramatically increases the probability of death in incidents involving domestic violence. In 2011 almost two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners.

And our situation appears unique on an international level. Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in any other high-income country

It is time that we as a nation recognize the clear intersection of intimate partner violence and gun possession, and enact laws on local, state and federal levels that protect women where they live.

As The Joyce Foundation recognizes, better gun enforcement and stronger gun laws are both needed to reduce gun violence. Enforcing our current laws is not enough to protect women. Here are some concrete things that legislators can do:

  • Bar all convicted abusers, stalkers and those subject to restraining orders -- including temporary ones -- from possessing guns. "At the time a domestic violence survivor leaves a domestic violence situation, she or he is five times more likely to get murdered," according to Karma Cottman, Executive Director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Banning those subject to temporary restraining orders brings cries of lack of due process, but the danger at that time is too real and the process is sufficient to match the compelling circumstances. Some states, such as Illinois, are at the forefront of protecting women in these situations. More states should follow suit.

  • Recognize that a growing proportion of domestic violence is perpetrated by "dating partners," not spouses. Antiquated legal definitions of intimate relationships are keeping guns in the wrong hands. The laws should be updated to account for the fact homicides committed by dating partners are outpacing homicides committed by spouses.
  • Provide timely records of gun-barred abusers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), maintained by the FBI. Law Enforcement needs to know who shouldn't have a gun. All law enforcement agencies and governments need to do a better job of reporting abusers so that women can be protected from known threats.
  • Make sure that those who are prohibited from possessing guns don't have guns. This preventative action seems so obvious but it needs to happen.
  • Guns are killing women in circumstances when they should be most secure, not most in danger. Our laws need to respond to this domestic tragedy.