Loopholes in federal and state law make it easy for dangerous people – including domestic abusers – to get guns. But Everytown’s research shows that common-sense public safety laws can help reduce intimate partner gun violence of women and save lives. Simply put, background check laws make women safer: Controlling for population, there are 46 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides of women in states that require background checks for private handgun sales than in states that do not.
Everytown compared the number of women killed with guns by current or former male partners (husband, ex-husband, common-law husband, or boyfriend) over a five-year period (2008-12) in states that did or did not require background checks for unlicensed, “private” handgun sales.
Data were obtained from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). Available online at http://bit.ly/1oWiuB3. The SHR do not include data from the state of Florida. We obtained data for that state directly from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Women killed by former (as opposed to current) dating-partners are not categorized in the data, and could not be included.
The SHR data is periodically updated as new information on deaths becomes available. This analysis used data obtained on September 25, 2014.
Throughout the study period, 14 states and the District of ColumbiaWe analyzed data for states that required background checks for all handgun sales during the period 2008-12. Since then, Colorado, Delaware, and Washington adopted these laws as well. required all gun buyers to undergo background checks before buying handguns in unlicensed sales, and 36 states did not. During that period, the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement recorded 911 gun homicides of women by current or former intimate partners in the former group of states, and 2,199 in the latter. Adjusting for population, there were 46 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides of women in states that require background checks for all handgun sales than in states that do not.
Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the FBI collect data on firearm homicides — the former from medical-examiners and the latter from local law enforcement. Each has distinct advantages and flaws. The CDC’s National Vital Statistics System records a higher percentage of all firearm deaths but fails to capture details about their circumstances, including the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim. This makes it unsuitable for measuring gun violence between intimate partners. In contrast, the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports include details on the perpetrator and murder weapon but are more likely to be missing records because the FBI relies on police departments to voluntarily submit their homicide data on an annual basis. Despite these gaps, SHR data are utilized widely in the criminology community.See James Alan Fox, “Missing Data Problems in the SHR: Imputing Offender and Relationship Characteristics,” Homicide Studies 8, no. 214 (2004); and Catherine Barber and David Hemenway, “Underestimates of Unintentional Firearm Fatalities: Comparing Supplementary Homicide Report Data with the National Vital Statistics System,” Injury Prevention 8 (2002).
To assess the impact of underreporting of homicides by different states, Everytown compared the number of SHR homicide records by year and state to those recorded by the CDC, and determined that in 41 states, more than 75 percent of the female homicides recorded by the CDC’s Fatal Injury Reports were recorded in the SHR.States in which fewer than 75 of female homicides recorded by the SHR were Alabama, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Montana, and West Virginia.
To assess the sensitivity of the analysis to states where fewer than 75 percent of homicides had been recorded, Everytown repeated the analysis without them. The results did not differ appreciably, and are not reported.