Violence against women is a public health crisis, and guns make violent crimes against women exceptionally more deadly. Most women who die by gun violence are killed in an intimate partner or domestic violence context. In fact, the presence of a firearm in the home during a domestic violence incident increases the risk of death fivefold.1 Additionally, more than 50 percent of all intimate partner-related murders of women were committed with a firearm.2
While not all gun violence against women is committed in a domestic violence context, it represents a large share of the violence committed against this demographic. Domestic violence affects all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. However, certain groups of people experience a disproportionate rate of domestic violence.3 Women, people in the LGBTQIA+ community, racial and ethnic minority women, and people with disabilities are at greater risk of domestic violence, and guns only exacerbate this harm.4 Black women, for example, experience the highest rate of gun homicides across all races in the United States.5 Women across the country face a gun homicide rate of 1.49 homicides per 100,000 women, but Black women face a rate of 3.92—more than three times higher than that of white women, for whom it is 1.07.6
Weak gun laws increase the number of violent crimes committed against women, and the states with the worst gun laws in the country experience some of the highest rates of firearm homicide against women. Recently, Congress has taken steps in the right direction to close the dangerous gaps in legislation that allow abusers to access guns. However, more must be done to ensure the safety of women and survivors of domestic violence.
Strong gun laws protect survivors of domestic violence
Weak gun laws are associated with higher firearm homicide rates for women. States that received an “F” rating in the Giffords Law Center’s 2021 Annual Gun Law Scorecard7 for their weak gun laws have higher rates of female firearm homicide than states with an “A” rating. For example, California, which received an A rating in 2020 for its gun laws, sees some of the lowest rates of female gun homicides.8
On the other hand, commonsense gun laws can reduce abusers’ access to firearms. Requiring a license or permit to purchase a firearm, implementing firearm relinquishment protocols, and reporting domestic violence misdemeanors to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System all work hand in hand to close gaps in laws that allow individuals who want to commit violence to access firearms.9 These laws are proven to work:
- Laws that prevent abusers from accessing guns reduce intimate partner homicides by as much as 25 percent.10
- Court orders that require firearm removal, such as domestic violence protective orders or restraining orders, are associated with a 12 percent reduction in intimate partner homicides.11
Guns are frequently used in homicides of women, and the United States far outpaces the rest of the world:
- In the United States, more than 50 percent of all female homicides by an intimate partner are committed with a firearm.12
- In 2015, 92 percent of all firearm deaths among women in high-income countries occurred in the United States.13
Despite major headlines surrounding public mass shootings,14 the majority of mass shootings start in the home and are related to domestic violence. Therefore, keeping guns out of the hands of abusers can prevent mass shootings:
- Two-thirds of all mass shootings occur during a domestic violence incident.15
- In about 68 percent of all mass shootings from 2014 to 2019, the perpetrator either killed at least one family member or had a history of domestic violence.16 For example, in the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, the gunman first shot his grandmother before killing 21 people at Robb Elementary School.17
- One-third of mass shootings involved a shooter who was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. This includes people with domestic violence-related charges and individuals with a documented history of violence.18
Gaps in federal and state laws harm survivors of domestic violence:
- Stalking is often a precursor to violence. Seventy-six percent of women who were killed by an intimate partner were stalked prior to their murder, and 86 percent of women who survived their attack report being stalked prior to their incident.19 However, only 20 states and the District of Columbia include misdemeanor stalking as a firearm prohibitor.20
- In March 2022, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. However, this key piece of legislation was left expired for years, in large part due to the refusal of conservative members of Congress to close the dating partner loophole,21 also known as the boyfriend loophole, which is a gap in federal legislation that allows some abusers to access firearms.
- In June 2022, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a gun violence prevention package that included some—but not all—priorities to curb gun violence across the country. This package partially closed the boyfriend loophole by prohibiting some dating partners convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning or purchasing a firearm. However, dating partners who are issued final protective orders—also known as restraining orders—can still possess firearms.
From 2017 through 2020, the Center for Investigative Reporting identified at least 110 fatal shootings of intimate partners and others by a person who were legally prohibited from owning a firearm.22 Firearm relinquishment protocols must be properly enforced in order to ensure that people convicted of domestic violence crimes swiftly surrender their firearms. Moreover, background checks with enhanced screenings should be conducted on all firearm purchases—including those from private gun sales—in order to prevent people with a documented history of violence from possessing a firearm. And completely closing loopholes that allow individuals who commit violence to access firearms—such as the misdemeanor stalking loophole, the dating partner loophole, and the Charleston loophole23—will ensure the safety of women and survivors of domestic violence.
Commonsense gun laws are proven to keep women safe, and they are the key to keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. States with weak gun laws see exceptionally higher rates of firearm homicides of women, with Black women facing alarmingly higher-than-average rates. It is imperative for the protection and safety of women across the country that states respond to the alarming data and enact comprehensive gun violence prevention policies.