After the Isla Vista shooting last month, the connection between women and gun violence has been at the forefront of the media debate on gun control. However, statistics from the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicate this connection is strong even outside the misogynistic violence of Elliot Rodger. Gun violence affects a staggering number of women daily, especially in situations of intimate partner violence: more women are murdered by their intimate partner than the number of troops killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. According to statistics recently released by NDVH, women are more likely to be murdered by their partners with a gun than all other means combined, and women are 500 percent more at risk of homicide if there is a firearm present in a domestic violence situation.
Although homicide is the tragic end that discussions on domestic gun violence focus on, guns are frequently used by abusive partners to control women by threatening them, and 67 percent of women in NDVH’s survey felt their partner was capable of murdering them. The one encouraging fact released by NDVH’s survey is that 38 percent fewer women are murdered with a firearm if their state requires a background check. Background checks and other gun-regulating legislation are controversial measures and a divisive political issue, but can serve to protect women against the violence that disproportionately effects them.
The Center for American Progress’ panel, “Women Under the Gun,” and their report by the same name, addressed the links between domestic and intimate partner violence and gun violence for the first time. The panel was introduced, with a standing ovation by the crowd, by former congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords, who told the packed room that “dangerous people with guns are a threat to women. Criminals with guns, stalkers with guns, abusers with guns—that makes gun violence a women’s issue, for mothers, for families, for me and you. Women can lead the way.” Giffords’ speech emphasized the necessity for collective action from women and legislators against those who are dangerous and violent, particularly to their intimate partners.
The panel, moderated by Center for American Progress’ president Neera Tanden, started with a chilling personal account of gun violence from panelist Sarah Engle. Engle is a survivor of domestic violence, and she graphically recounted the horrific events of a night in September 2008 when “my ex…shot and killed my mother, who was my best friend. He also held me hostage, raped me, shot me in the head, and left me for dead. At the time, I was living with my mom, because I had left him. When I returned home that night, he was at my mother’s house, holding a gun he threatened to shoot me if I did not do what I was told.” As Engle continued to describe the horrific events she endured at the hands of her armed and violent ex-boyfriend, the gravity of the issue at hand became clear; her story created a sense of urgency in order to keep guns out of the hands of those with domestic abuse and/or stalking records, like her assailant.
Fortunately, there is legislation in the works that would help enact these necessary changes. Supported by panelist and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would prohibit convicted stalkers or those with a restraining order from purchasing or possessing a gun or ammunition. Klobuchar’s legislation seeks to close some of the many loopholes in current legislation. According to the CAP report, under federal law there are at least 11,986 individuals in 20 states that could possess a firearm who also are convicted of misdemeanor-level stalking.
The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would be significant step in protecting women from gun violence. Engle’s ex-boyfriend could never have legally obtained a gun had such legislation been enforced. Engle’s hope was that, by sharing her story, she could help ensure that no one else has to lose a parent or a loved one as she did. The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act is an important step in the fight to break the connection between gun and domestic violence. It would represent significant progress in creating comprehensive legislation that protects women, rather than the gun rights of domestic violence perpetrators.