The new report from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense: “Guns and Violence Against Women – America’s Uniquely Lethal Domestic Abuse Problem” opens with a tragically unsurprising story: a woman who’d been abused by her husband for years sought and received a restraining order. While this should, under federal law, have prevented him from buying a firearm, the man exploited a loophole and bought a gun from an unlicensed online seller, avoiding a background check. Three days later, he shot and killed his wife.
As the report explains, and common sense would indicate, preventing abusers from obtaining (or keeping) firearms is an evidence-based way to protect women. The federal government and many states have enacted laws to reflect this reality, but gaps and loopholes make it far too easy for abusers to access guns – and women suffer the consequences.
A survey of women living in California domestic violence shelters, for example, showed that about two-thirds of the women who lived in households with guns reported that their partner had used the gun against them, usually by threatening to shoot or kill her. And California is not unusual. Research compiled by Everytown shows:
- American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in any other developed country.
- The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be murdered.
- More than half of women murdered with guns in the U.S. in 2010 – at least 54 percent – were killed by intimate partners or family members.
- Over the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides in the U.S. have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined.
This is also true for mass shootings: an Everytown analysis of every mass shooting in the U.S. between January 2009 and June 2014 determined that in 57 percent (61 of 107 incidents), the shooter killed an intimate partner or family member.
So why, where and how are abusers getting guns?
Everytown points out that the strongest gun laws prohibit domestic abusers and stalkers from buying or possessing guns; they require background checks and ensure that abusers and stalkers surrender guns already in their possession. When these laws are on the books – and are enforced properly – they can keep guns out of abusers’ hands.
In fact, in states that require background checks for all handgun sales, there are 38 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners. But not all states require those checks.
The Report shows:
Loophole #1: Domestic abusers and stalkers can evade gun prohibitions by purchasing guns from unlicensed private sellers. Federal law requires background checks for gun sales only at licensed dealers. And only 16 states require checks on all handgun sales. In the remaining states, prohibited abusers have little trouble purchasing a gun from an unlicensed seller online or at a gun show. In a first-of-its-kind investigation of illegal online gun sales, Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that one of four prohibited purchasers seeking guns online had a domestic violence arrest.
Loophole #2: Federal law does not keep guns out of the hands of abusive dating partners or convicted stalkers. Even though more women in the U.S. are killed by dating partners than by spouses, federal laws barring domestic abusers from buying or owning guns do not apply to people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses or to dating partners. Everytown found that in 24 percent of mass shootings in which the perpetrator targeted an intimate partner the two would likely not qualify as intimate partners under current law as they had never married or had a child together.
Loophole #3: Forty-one states do not require all prohibited domestic abusers to relinquish guns they already own.
Loophole #4: Most state gun laws are looser than federal laws, leaving local law enforcement without resources to protect domestic violence victims. In 35 states, state law does not prohibit all those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes or subject to restraining orders from buying or using guns. So while domestic abusers cannot possess guns under federal law, local law enforcement and prosecutors lack the tools and access they need to enforce those restrictions.
There is, however, change on the horizon: In the first half of 2014, Everytown and Moms Demand Action worked with domestic violence prevention advocates to pass bipartisan bills in six states – both red and blue – that will help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
Louisiana: Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law legislation that will bar people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from possessing a firearm for a period of 10 years.
Minnesota: Governor Mark Dayton signed into law legislation that says those subject to a domestic violence restraining order cannot buy or possess guns. The legislation also bars convicted domestic abusers from buying or possessing all guns and establishes a procedure to ensure that convicted stalkers and domestic abusers relinquish their guns.
New Hampshire: Legislators spelled out which spousal abusers are prohibited from purchasing guns.
Washington State: The state passed a law to ensure that individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders were not allowed to buy or possess guns and were required to relinquish firearms they already owned.
Wisconsin: Governor Scott Walker signed the SAFE (Stopping Abuse Fatalities through Enforcement) Act which will require courts to verify that domestic violence offenders relinquish their guns.
Vermont: State legislators passed a bill that lays out a procedure for turning in guns possessed by prohibited purchasers.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, Senator Amy Klobucher introduced a bill – expected to attract broad, bipartisan support – to add stalkers and dating partners to the list of federally prohibited gun purchasers.
“It’s clear that strong gun laws make a difference – that’s why states with both Republican and Democratic governors are taking action to close the loopholes that allow dangerous people to get and keep guns,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “It’s time for Congress and other states to step up and pass reforms to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.”
Yes – unless our elected officials are content to let the United States be known, when it comes to gun violence, as the most dangerous place in the developed world for a woman.