This is why gun control matters so much for women's safety

This is why gun control matters so much for women's safety

According to FBI data analysed by Associated Press, a woman is fatally shot by a current or former romantic partner every 16 hours in the USA. Having spent their lives being told not to walk alone after dark, lest a stranger should attack them, or practicing gun-drills to escape mass-shootings, almost half of women murdered in the United States are killed by someone they knew and trusted. Of these, over half are killed by firearms.  

But in modern America, it’s often a case of another day, another shooting. In the midst of all of the attention focused on the safety of children in schools, there's also another elephant in the room: the safety of women in their own homes. Not every man with a gun is a threat to women, not all gun owners are male and not all domestic violence is perpetrated by men. But it is an inescapable fact that 80 per cent of those killed by intimate partners are women.

person holding gun Credit: Pixabay/Jabbacake

At present, gun laws relating to domestic violence vary between states, creating a "patchwork" effect. Under federal laws, individuals convicted of a domestic abuse misdemeanor have been prevented from purchasing guns since 1996. However, in only 24 states does a "domestic" extend to an intimate partner that the perpetrator has never lived with. This loophole allows someone who only dated their victim, and never lived with them or had children together, to continue unobstructed. Considering that, of 31,000 police reports examined by the University of Pennsylvania, 82 per cent of violent incidents between intimate partners were dating partners, this constitutes a pretty big loophole.

Not everyone agrees that these restrictions are the right way to go however: "A citizen who pled guilty 20 years ago to a misdemeanor stalking charge but has been an upstanding citizen since that time, will automatically lose their right to possess a firearm,” Kim Thatcher, a Republican State senator who attempted to have the bill modified, told The Guardian. She would like to see the bill instead “offer recourse to gain rights back after a period of time of good behavior".

But if we can learn anything from history, it is that tighter gun control does have a direct impact on the perpetration of domestic violence, specifically, fatal violence. A study led by Michael Siegel, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health found that in the 41 states that simply banned the sale of guns to people under temporary or permanent intimate partner violence-related restraining orders, domestic homicide rates did not fall. But in the few states that also required these individuals to also give up their existing weapons - such as California and Hawaii - the homicide rate dropped by an average of 14 per cent.

Traditionally, the National Rifle Association (NRA), have also publicly opposed strengthening these legislations, arguing that gun ownership is a “fundamental right” that should only be removed in response to federal crimes. In recent years, there has been something of a softening in their policy, with the NRA challenging less legislation enacted by individual states to restrict gun ownership. However, it still (unsuccessfully) opposed plans by Washington State to add “Harassment with a domestic violence motivation” to the list of offences that barred individuals from gun ownership.

What’s more, in a July 2017 advert for the NRA, spokeswoman Dana Loesch even claimed that the only way for a woman to find “real empowerment” and protect herself against domestic abusers was with a gun in her hand. But this view is, in many ways, tantamount to victim-blaming; telling a woman to “get a gun” to solve domestic violence is about as helpful as telling her to “just leave” and ignores the complexities of the situation. And according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of a woman being shot by 500 per cent, even if that gun is her own. It is gun control, not proliferation, that stands to make a difference.

Perhaps the most absurd thing about this whole situation is that, on this issue, there are indications that public support is actually very much in favour of reform. In a poll by YouGov of 1,000 adults, 65 per cent said that they would be in favour of barring people from owning a firearm if they’ve been issued a restraining order or have been convicted of stalking. But until lawmakers reflect this public sentiment, women will continue to be put at risk. At the end of the day, the presence of a gun in the house makes it five times more likely that a woman will be fatally shot - and until America gets tougher on its gun laws, there is no reason for this figure to drop.