Guns and Violence Against Women
America’s Uniquely Lethal Intimate Partner Violence Problem
Last Updated: 12.16.2022
Intimate partner violence and gun violence in the United States are inextricably linked, impacting millions of women, families, and communities across the country. Abusers with firearms are five times more likely to kill their female victims,1Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study,” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7 (July 2003): 1089–97, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.93.7.1089. and guns further exacerbate the power and control dynamic commonly used by abusers to inflict emotional abuse and exert coercive control over their victims.
The statistics on the prevalence of intimate partner violence with a gun in the United States are staggering: Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.2Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by intimate partners, and over 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.3Everytown analysis of the National Violence Against Women Survey (Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” November 2000, https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf) and US Census 2020. And beyond the daily toll of this problem, in more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage.4Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Mass Shootings in America, 2009–2020,” 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/mass-shootings-in-america/. The ripple effects of firearms in the hands of an abuser extend far beyond the intimate relationship—affecting children who witness or live with it and the family members, coworkers, and law enforcement officers who respond to it.
While the deadly intersection of guns and intimate partner violence affects all women, it has a disproportionate impact on American Indian / Alaska Native, Black, and Latina women as well as pregnant and postpartum women.5Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019; Maeve Wallace et al., “Homicide during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period in the United States, 2018–2019,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 138, no. 5 (2021): 762–69, https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000004567; Maeve E. Wallace, “Trends in Pregnancy-Associated Homicide, United States, 2020,” American Journal of Public Health 112, no. 9 (2022): 1333–36, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2022.306937. In addition, segments of the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities are highly vulnerable to severe forms of relationship abuse,6Jieru Chen et al., “Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence by Sexual Orientation, United States,” Psychology of Violence 10, no. 1 (2020): 110–19, https://doi.org/10.1037/vio0000252; Mikel L. Walters, Jieru Chen, and Matthew J. Breiding, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2013, https://bit.ly/2nRCTfb; Sandy E. James et al., “The Report of the 2015 US Transgender Survey,” National Center for Transgender Equality, 2016, https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf; Kerith J. Conron et al., “Gun Violence and LGBT Adults: Findings from the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey,” the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, November 2018, https://bit.ly/2SHcgoq; Laurie E. Powers et al., “Interpersonal Violence and Women with Disabilities: A Research Update,” National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, Applied Research Forum, September 2009, https://bit.ly/2VaXQ2D; Matthew J. Breiding and Brian S. Armour, “The Association between Disability and Intimate Partner Violence in the United States,” Annals of Epidemiology 25, no. 6 (2015): 455–57, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.03.017; Diane L. Smith, “Disability, Gender and Intimate Partner Violence: Relationships from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System,” Sexuality and Disability 26 (2008): 15–28, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11195-007-9064-6; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sexual Violence and Intimate Partner Violence among People with Disabilities,” June 1, 2020, https://bit.ly/2SynqeY. but there is alarmingly little data on the intersection of firearms and intimate partner violence among these populations because of underreporting of these incidents to authorities and failure to invest in research that disaggregates data to fully capture the extent of the problem.
While intimate partner violence involving guns presents a bleak problem, research shows that federal and state policies that disrupt abusers’ access to guns can save lives. One such recent example is the monumental 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that addresses various forms of gun violence, including disarming convicted domestic abusers irrespective of their marital status.7Everytown for Gun Safety, “What is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act?” June 21, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/what-is-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act.
State and federal lawmakers should enact the following policies and practices to ensure that abusers cannot access guns:
1. STRENGTHENING STATE LAWS prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns and requiring abusers to relinquish guns they already have.
2. IMPLEMENTING AND ENFORCING EXISTING LAWS on firearm relinquishment by state and local courts and law enforcement agencies.
3. STRENGTHENING THE FEDERAL BACKGROUND CHECK SYSTEM to keep guns out of dangerous hands by closing deadly loopholes and addressing deficiencies.
4. FUNDING COMPREHENSIVE RESEARCH on the nexus of guns and intimate partner violence.
Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.
Everytown analysis of CDC, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019.
Last updated: 1.26.2022
The Nexus of Intimate Partner Violence and Guns
In the United States, more than one in three women report experiencing abuse from a partner in their lifetime.1Sharon G. Smith et al., “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief—Updated Release,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, November 2018, https://bit.ly/2DbVS9S. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious public health problem that affects millions of American women, with far-reaching impacts not only for individual victims but also for their families, their communities, and our economy. Although IPV affects people of all genders and sexual orientations, the impact of abuse, including rates of severe physical violence and violence inflicted with a firearm, is predominantly experienced by women with male partners.2Women report lifetime IPV that resulted in a significant impact (e.g., medical care) at a rate of 24 percent, compared to a rate of 11 percent among men. Women also report experiencing higher rates of severe physical violence at a rate of 21 percent, compared to a rate of 15 percent among men. Smith et al., “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief—Updated Release;” Emma E. Friedland and James Alan Fox, “Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in US Homicide, 1976–2017,” Violence and Gender 6, no. 1 (2019): 27–36, https://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2019.0005. Guns amplify the inherent power and control dynamics characteristic of abusive intimate relationships, whether as lethal weapons to injure and kill or as a tool to inflict emotional abuse without ever firing a bullet.
What is IPV?
The terms intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence are often used interchangeably. IPV can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse, as well as stalking by a current or former intimate partner.1Matthew J. Breiding et al., “Intimate partner violence surveillance: uniform definitions and recommended data elements, Version 2.0.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2015, https://bit.ly/2NDaYvQ. Intimate partner relationships include current or former spouses (married spouses, common-law spouses, civil union spouses, domestic partners), boyfriends/girlfriends, dating partners, and ongoing sexual partners. Intimate partners may or may not be cohabiting and can be opposite or same sex. Domestic violence is generally considered to encompass any abuse in the context of the home or family, including child or elder abuse. Intimate partner violence refers specifically to abuse committed by an intimate partner. Historically, IPV was referred to as “domestic violence” at a time when most relationships were marital and involved cohabiting partners. As the nature of intimate relationships has changed considerably in society, IPV is a more inclusive term to cover abuse in the context of varied relationships, including dating partners and partners who have a child in common but do not cohabit. Today, most international organizations and national agencies—such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—use the term IPV.
In the United States, the crisis of intimate partner violence is inextricably linked to the widespread and growing use of guns by abusers.
92 percent of all women killed with guns in high-income countries in an average year were from the United States.
Everytown analysis of the most recent year of gun deaths by country (2015–2019), GunPolicy.org (accessed January 7, 2022).
Nearly two-thirds of intimate partner homicides in the United States are committed with a gun, and 80 percent of intimate partner firearm homicide victims are women.3Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. This translates to an average of 70 women shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in the United States.4Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. The number of female homicides by violent partners with a firearm has accelerated in recent years. Over the 10-year period from 2011 to 2020, there was a 6 percent increase in intimate partner homicides of women. This trend was driven by homicides with guns, which increased by 15 percent. During the same period, female intimate partner homicides by all other means decreased 4 percent.5Everytown analysis of FBI Supplemental Homicide Report (SHR) data from 2011–2020, accessed October 2021. Data from AL and FL were excluded from the analysis due to inconsistent reporting over the time period. Analysis includes female victims of all ages. Intimate partners are identified by the victim’s relationship to the offender categories contained in the SHR of husband, wife, common-law husband, common-law wife, ex-husband, ex-wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, and homosexual relationship. Means of homicide other than firearms include: knives, blunt objects, personal weapons (including beating), poison, pushed or thrown out of a window, explosions, fire, narcotics, drowning, strangulation, asphyxiation, and other. Guns are also used with alarming frequency by abusers to wound victims or attempt to do so—nearly 1 million women in the United States alive today have reported being shot or shot at by an intimate partner.6Everytown analysis of the National Violence Against Women Survey (Tjaden and Thoennes, “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women”) and US Census 2020.
Intimate partner homicides of women by guns are on the rise
Last updated: 10.26.2022
Intimate partner gun violence makes the United States uniquely dangerous for women.
When it comes to gun violence, the United States is the most dangerous country for women among high-income nations. An astounding 92 percent of all women killed with guns in high-income nations were from the United States.7Everytown analysis of the most recent year of gun deaths by country (2015–2019), GunPolicy.org (accessed January 7, 2022). In fact, women in the United States are 28 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than women in peer nations8Everytown analysis of the most recent year of gun deaths by country (2015–2019), GunPolicy.org (accessed January 7, 2022).—and IPV drives these numbers. Two in five female firearm homicide victims were killed by a current or former intimate partner.9Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Public health researchers have established that in relationships where violence is present, abusers’ access to a gun significantly increases women’s risk of death.
La’Shea was at her aunt’s house with her children when her ex-boyfriend shot her five times and then shot himself. “He used to show up at my work and threaten me,” she recalls, citing several similar incidents. La’Shea went into a coma as a result of the shooting but miraculously survived, although the five bullets remain inside her. Her daughter is now an adult, and La’Shea advocates for gun violence prevention, sharing her story to draw attention to the deadly role of guns in intimate partner violence.
—La’Shea Cretain, member of the Everytown Survivor Network.
IPV has a tragic link to mass shootings and suicide.
Access to a gun makes it five times more likely that the abusive partner will kill his female victim.
Campbell, J. C. et al. “Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study”. American Journal of Public Health. (2003). https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.93.7.1089
From the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, to the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022, the men using firearms to inflict public terror often share histories of violence against women.10Adam Goldman, “Orlando Gunman’s Wife Breaks Silence: ‘I Was Unaware,” New York Times, November 1, 2016, https://nyti.ms/3Ew3bdO; Constance Grady, “The Dayton, Ohio, Shooter Reportedly Kept a ‘Rape List’ of Potential Victims,” Vox, August 5, 2019, https://bit.ly/2M95h8Y. An Everytown analysis of mass shooting incidents—in which four or more people are shot and killed, not including the shooter—in the United States from 2009 to 2020 revealed that in at least 53 percent of these incidents, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.11Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Mass Shootings in America, 2009–2020,” 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/mass-shootings-in-america/. While research examining the connections between IPV, misogyny, and mass shootings is limited, analysis of recent mass shootings indicates shooters often had histories of IPV, stalking, or harassment.12Mark Folman, “Armed and Misogynist: How Toxic Masculinity Fuels Mass Shootings,” Mother Jones, May/June 2019, https://bit.ly/2MIgFrU; Haley Britzky, “Most Mass Shooters Have a History of Violence against Women. The California Shooter Did Too,” Axios. November 9, 2018, https://bit.ly/3MmVV5D. Intimate partner firearm homicide is also connected with gun suicide: a study of mass shootings in the United States from 2014 to 2019 found that more than half of all domestic violence–related mass shootings ended with a perpetrator dying by firearm suicide,13Lisa B. Geller, Marisa Booty, and Cassandra K. Crifasi, “The Role of Domestic Violence in Fatal Mass Shootings in the United States, 2014–2019,” Injury Epidemiology 8, no. 38 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1186/s40621-021-00330-0. Study defined mass shooting as four or more people shot and killed, not including the perpetrator. and it is not uncommon for abusers who threaten or commit gun violence against their partners or children to end up dying by firearm suicide.14Fourteen percent of homicide-suicide victims are children. Joseph E. Logan et al., “Homicide-Followed-by-Suicide Incidents Involving Child Victims,” American Journal of Health Behavior 37, no. 4 (2013): 531–42, https://doi.org/10.5993/AJHB.37.4.11.
Angela is a mother, grandmother, former law enforcement officer, and a survivor of intimate partner violence who has lived with the fear of being shot and killed by her ex-husband. Her ex-husband became abusive over time. “I would often be woken up in the middle of the night with the sound of ‘spin click spin click’ from a gun while it was pressed to the back of my neck,” she remembers.
—Angela Wright, member of the Everytown Survivor Network.
Abusers use guns to threaten and control their victims, and threats often escalate to lethal violence.
It is widely known that abusers exploit guns to exert power and control over their partners.15Susan B. Sorenson and Rebecca A. Schut, “Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 4 (2018): 431–42, https://doi.org/10.1177/152483801666. Over 4.5 million women in the United States today report having been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.16Everytown analysis of the National Violence Against Women Survey (Tjaden and Thoennes, “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women”) and US Census 2020. In a 2018 survey of victim calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, over one-third of callers reported being threatened with a gun, and over three-fourths of those who experienced such threats reported their partner also stalked them.17TK Logan and Kellie R. Lynch, “Dangerous Liaisons: Examining the Connection of Stalking and Gun Threats among Partner Abuse Victims,” Violence and Victims 33, no. 3 (2018): 399–416, https://doi.org/10.1891/0886-6708.v33.i3.399. Stalking, a form of intimidation and control, is a predictor of lethality in intimate partner relationships: One study found that 76 percent of intimate partner homicides and 85 percent of attempted homicides of women were preceded by at least one incident of stalking in the year before the attack.18Judith M. MacFarlane et al., “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studies 3, no. 4 (1999): 300–16, https://doi.org/10.1177/1088767999003004003.
Over 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.
Everytown analysis of the National Violence Against Women Survey (Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” November 2000, https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf) and US Census 2020.
Indeed, many abusers follow a common pattern of predetermined threats against and intimidation of their partners, even explicitly telling victims that a gun will be used against them. For this reason, law enforcement officials and victim advocates have learned to recognize the use of a gun by an abuser to threaten or intimidate their partner as a key predictor for intimate partner homicides.19Campbell et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships;” Christina Nicolaidis et al., “Could We Have Known? A Qualitative Analysis of Data from Women Who Survived an Attempted Homicide by an Intimate Partner,” Journal of General Internal Medicine 18, no. 10 (2003): 788–94, https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.21202.x.
Even when abusers do not ultimately pull the trigger, the abuser’s use of and access to a firearm creates psychological terror for the victim. One study found that women who had been threatened with a gun by their abuser or feared one would be used against them suffered more severe PTSD symptoms than those who had not endured threats with a gun.20Tami P. Sullivan and Nicole H. Weiss, “Is Firearm Threat in Intimate Relationships Associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms among Women?” Violence and Gender 4, no. 2 (2017): 31–36, https://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2016.0024. According to the study author, “The fear of a firearm threat—just the fear of the threat, not even the actual threat—is significantly associated with PTSD. It’s stronger even than the link between physical or sexual abuse and PTSD.”21Jennifer Mascia, “No Shots Fired,” The Trace, September 12, 2018, https://bit.ly/2QAOSg7.
Arming victims with guns increases their risk.
The gun lobby’s claim that intimate partner homicide can be prevented by arming victims with firearms is a harmful distraction from what we know actually works to protect women from gun violence. There is no research to support the idea that women’s gun ownership increases their safety, regardless of whether they are IPV victims. In fact, studies show the opposite—that women living in households with a firearm are at greater risk of homicide.22Andrew Anglemyer, Tara Horvath, and George Rutherford, “The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine 160, no. 2 (2014): 101–10, https://doi.org/10.7326/M13-1301. An analysis of risk factors for women killed by their partners found that even those who live apart from their abuser saw no protective impact of owning a gun. Campbell et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships.”
A 2022 California-based study found that living in a home with a handgun owner increased the risk of the non–gun owner being shot and killed at home by a spouse or an intimate partner more than sevenfold, and that the vast majority of victims—84 percent—were women.23David M. Studdert et al., “Homicide Deaths among Adult Cohabitants of Handgun Owners in California, 2004 to 2016: A Cohort Study,” Annals of Internal Medicine 175 (2022): 804–11, https://doi.org/10.7326/M21-3762. A study of female intimate partner homicide risk factors found that even for women who lived apart from their abuser, there was no evidence of protective impact from owning a gun.24Campbell et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships.” And another California study found that women who purchased a gun died by firearm homicide at twice the rate of women who did not.25Garen J. Wintemute et al., “Mortality among Recent Purchasers of Handguns,” New England Journal of Medicine 341, no. 21 (1999): 1583–89, https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199911183412106.
Research also reinforces the inverse relationship between IPV victim safety and gun ownership. States with the highest rates of firearm ownership (i.e., the top quartile of states) have a 65 percent higher rate of domestic firearm homicide than states with the lowest rates of gun ownership (i.e., the lowest quartile).26Aaron J. Kivisto et al., “Firearm Ownership and Domestic versus Nondomestic Homicide in the US,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 57, no. 3 (2019): 311–20, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2019.04.009. Study defined domestic homicide as those committed by intimate partners or other family members. Therefore, advocating for women to be armed with guns blatantly ignores what researchers, survivors, and law enforcement know too well: access to a firearm is associated with an increased risk of intimate partner homicide, and disrupting that access reduces the likelihood of IPV becoming deadly.27April M. Zeoli et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide,” American Journal of Epidemiology 187, no. 11 (November 2018): 2365–71, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwy174. See also: Carolina Díez et al., “State Intimate Partner Violence-Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015,” Annals of Internal Medicine 167, no. 8 (October 2017): 536–43, https://doi.org/10.7326/M16-2849.
Abusers with guns not only kill their partners, but too often also take the lives of family, friends, coworkers, and responding law enforcement officers.
3 in 4
Nearly 3 in 4 children and teens killed in mass shootings died in an incident connected to domestic violence.
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Mass Shootings in America, 2009-2020,” 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/mass-shootings-in-america.
The impact of IPV with guns extends beyond the intimate partner relationship, significantly impacting others, especially children. A study of intimate partner homicides in 16 states found that one in five victims were family members (including children), friends, persons who intervened, first responders, and strangers. In roughly 70 percent of these deaths, the perpetrator used a firearm.28Sharon G. Smith, Katherine A. Fowler, and Phyllis H. Niolon, “Intimate Partner Homicide and Corollary Victims in 16 States: National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003–2009,” American Journal of Public Health 104, no. 3 (2014): 461–66, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301582. It is widely known among law enforcement officers that IPV incidents (domestic disturbance calls) are the most dangerous assignments they take on the job, in large part due to abusers’ use of guns.29Calls related to domestic disputes and domestic-related incidents represented the highest number of fatal types of calls for service. Nick Breul and Mike Keith, “Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters: Analysis of US Law Enforcement Line of Duty Deaths When Officers Responded to Dispatched Calls for Service and Conducted Enforcement (2010–2014),” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2016, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=794863. Ninety-five percent of law enforcement officer deaths in response to domestic disturbances between 1996 and 2010 were from a firearm. Cassandra Kercher et al., “Homicides of Law Enforcement Officers Responding to Domestic Disturbance Calls,” Injury Prevention 19, no. 5 (2013): 331–35, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040723.
Hollie dropped off her 2½-year-old son, Michael, for a supervised visit with her ex-husband on March 23, 2013, in Petersburg, Pennsylvania. Hollie survived being shot in the legs and face by her ex, but he killed Michael before fatally shooting himself. Hollie had a restraining order against him, which prohibited him from possessing a firearm, but he was not required to surrender his gun. “The system failed my son again and again: when the judge decided not to extend my ex-husband’s hospitalization; when he was arrested and quickly released for violating the protection from abuse order twice; when he was allowed visitations to our son; when his firearms were not made inaccessible. . . . I couldn’t protect Michael from the system that failed him, but I can try to protect others whose lives are still at stake. As Americans, we need to reevaluate the system that puts thousands of lives at risk every day. My son was just 2½ years old when his life was stolen. We need to do more to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
—Hollie Ayers, member of the Everytown Survivor Network.
Children’s exposure to IPV gun violence is permanently damaging, if not deadly.
Children are particularly affected by IPV with guns. For children under age 13 who are victims of gun homicide, nearly one-third are connected to intimate partner or family violence.30Katherine A Fowler et al., “Childhood firearm injuries in the United States,” Pediatrics 140, no. 1 (2017): e20163486.,https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-3486. Between 2009 and 2020, nearly three in four children and teens killed in mass shooting incidents involving four or more deaths died in an incident connected to domestic violence.31Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Mass Shootings in America, 2009–2020.” Data drawn from 16 states indicate that nearly two-thirds of child fatalities involving domestic violence were caused by guns.32Avanti Adhia et al., ”The Role of Intimate Partner Violence in Homicides of Children Aged 2–14 years,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 56, no. 1 (2019): 38–46, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.08.028.
Data drawn from 16 states indicates that nearly two-thirds of child fatalities involving domestic violence were caused by guns.
Adhia et al., “The Role of Intimate Partner Violence in Homicides of Children Aged 2–14 Years,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 56, no. 1 (2019): 38–46, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.08.028.
There is also ample evidence that children who survive and witness the death of a parent from IPV suffer life-altering consequences, including severe PTSD, behavioral problems, and suicidal thoughts.33Jennifer L. Hardesty et al., “How Children and Their Caregivers Adjust after Intimate Partner Femicide,” Journal of Family Issues 29, no. 1 (2008): 100–124, https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X07307845. These impacts significantly disrupt children’s school performance,34Eva Alisic et al., “Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being after Parental Intimate Partner Homicide: A Systematic Review, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 18, no. 4 (2015): 328–45, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-015-0193-7. and the trauma can follow them into adulthood.35Henrik Lysell et al., “Killing the Mother of One’s Child: Psychiatric Risk Factors among Male Perpetrators and Offspring Health Consequences,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 77, no. 3 (2016): 342–47, https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.14m09564. Tragically, children can also be caught in the crosshairs of dangerous relationship violence when courts mandate continued contact with their abusive parent.
The Unequal Burden of Firearm-related Intimate Partner Violence
People of all races and ethnicities experience IPV, but relationship violence, including with firearms, is not inflicted equally on all women.36The burden of IPV is not shared equally across all groups; many racial/ethnic and sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by IPV. Phyllis H. Niolon et al., “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2017. Women from communities with histories of racial discrimination, often intertwined with higher poverty rates, have less access to protective services that reduce the risk of lethal violence.37Factors that put individuals at risk for perpetrating IPV include (but are not limited to) demographic factors such as age (adolescence and young adulthood), low income, low educational attainment, and unemployment; childhood history factors such as exposure to violence between parents, experiencing poor parenting, and experiencing child abuse and neglect, including sexual violence. Phyllis H. Niolon et al., “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence across the Lifespan.” Poverty is a community-level risk factor for IPV that often, but not always, intersects with racial disparities. Victim advocates working in rural regions of the United States, like Appalachia, know that women living in these areas are at higher risk for some of the most severe forms of IPV due to a lack of resources in their communities, including great distances between victims and their nearest shelter, hospital, or law enforcement agency: see Corinne Peek-Asa et al., “Rural Disparity in Domestic Violence Prevalence and Access to Resources,” Journal of Women’s Health 20, no. 11 (November 2011): 1743–49, https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2011.2891. One study of women hospitalized in Appalachia due to IPV found that, compared with other parts of the country, victims requiring medical attention for IPV were more likely to identify as white, and almost two-thirds of these patients lived in communities with the lowest annual median income quartile: see Danielle M. Davidov et al., “Intimate Partner Violence-Related Hospitalizations in Appalachia and the non-Appalachian United States,” PLoS One 12, no. 9 (2017): e0184222, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184222. It is important to understand this data in the context of high rates of gun ownership in rural America: see Ruth Igielnik, “Rural and Urban Gun Owners Have Different Experiences, Views on Gun Policy,” Pew Research Center, July 10, 2017, https://pewrsr.ch/3MmoU9J. As seen in the following chart, American Indian / Alaska Native, Black, and Latina women are victims of intimate partner firearm homicide at the highest rates.38Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+. AI/AN and Black defined as non-Latinx origin. Robust research documents the structural disadvantages in non-white neighborhoods,39Anita Knopov et al., “The Role of Racial Residential Segregation in Black-White Disparities in Firearm Homicide at the State Level in the United States, 1991–2015,” Journal of the National Medical Association 110, no. 1 (2019): 62–75, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnma.2018.06.002. Note that the researchers controlled for levels of poverty, home ownership, labor force participation, incarceration, educational attainment, and single-parent households among the Black population in each state and found racial residential segregation was positively associated with the Black firearm homicide rate. which lack trust in the criminal justice system, making them less likely to report abuse,40Chandra T. Whitfield, “It’s Complicated: Why Some Black Women Refuse to Call the Police When Their Black Male Partners Threaten Their Lives,” The Grio, April 10, 2019, https://on.thegrio.com/3SUpEWc. and are hurt by inadequately resourced social support such as schools, housing, and healthcare.41Patricia L. McCall, Kenneth C. Land, and Karen F. Parker, “An Empirical Assessment of What We Know about Structural Covariates of Homicide Rates: A Return to a Classic 20 Years Later,” Homicide Studies 14, no. 3 (2010): 219–43; C. M. West, “Battered, Black, and Blue: An Overview of Violence in the Lives of Black Women,” Women & Therapy 25, no. 3–4 (2014): 1–211, https://doi.org/10.1177/1088767910371166; Alan Nelson, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” Journal of the National Medical Association 94, no. 8 (August 2002): 666–68, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2594273/. These disparities can drive community violence, which is linked with higher rates of IPV42Gillian M. Pinchevsky and Emily M. Wright, “The Impact of Neighborhoods on Intimate Partner Violence and Victimization,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 13, no. 2 (2012): 112–32, https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838012445641. in large part because witnessing violence of any kind as a child can normalize abuse and increase the chances that the child experiences or inflicts violence in their adolescent and adult relationships.43Firearms are used in the majority of IPV homicides of adolescents, and the majority of victims are girls. Avanti Adhia et al., “Intimate Partner Homicide of Adolescents,” JAMA Pediatrics 173, no. 6 (2019): 571–77, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.0621; Niolon, Kearns, and Dills, “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence across the Lifespan.”
American Indian / Alaska Native, Black, and Latina women are victims of intimate partner firearm homicide at the highest rates.
Last updated: 10.26.2022
Compared to white women, Black women are three times more likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner.44Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+. Black and white defined as non-Latinx origin. Younger Black women ages 18 to 34 years are at the greatest risk. They are five times as likely to be shot and killed by an intimate partner than white women in the same age group.45Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–34. Black and white defined as non-Latinx origin.
The history of trauma, discrimination, and dispossession inflicted upon indigenous communities by federal policies continues to influence their health and well-being today, including leading to extremely high rates of IPV.46The high rates of IPV among indigenous women in the United States is also the result of a chronic shortage of preventive health and social services in Tribal lands and Alaska Native villages. See Bonnie Duranet al., ”Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Disorders among American Indian Women from Southwest Tribes in Primary Care,” American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research: The Journal of the National Center 16, no. 2 (2009): 11–27, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ849046. See also Ronet Bachman et al., “Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What Is Known,” August 2008, https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/223691.pdf; Michelle Sarche and Paul Spicer, “Poverty and Health Disparities for American Indian and Alaska Native Children: Current Knowledge and Future Prospects,” Annals of the New York Academy of Science 1136 (2008): 126–36, https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1425.017. More than half of American Indian / Alaska Native women have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime.47Almost half of American Indian and Alaska Native women have also been stalked, and two-thirds have been victims of psychological aggression by intimate partners. André B. Rosay, “Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men,” National Institute of Justice Journal 277 (2016): 38–45, http://hdl.handle.net/11122/7030. American Indian / Alaska Native women are nearly four times as likely as white women to be fatally shot by an intimate partner.48Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+. AI/AN and white defined as non-Latinx origin. While the disproportionate rate of gender violence impacting Native communities is clear, the national epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is not well-recorded.49Annita Lucchesi and Abigail Echo-Hawk, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” Urban Indian Health Institute, November 14, 2018, https://bit.ly/2qEfNrX. This means violent crimes against women in Tribal lands and Alaska Native villages are not consistently reflected in national crime statistics.50This is partly due to Tribal law enforcement’s lack of access to federal crime reporting databases. Currently, only 47 out of the 573 federally recognized Tribes have been enrolled in the Justice Department’s Tribal Access Program, which provides Tribes the ability to access and exchange data with the national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes. See US Department of Justice, “Department of Justice Announces Expansion of Program to Enhance Tribal Access to National Crime Information Databases,” August 2, 2018, https://bit.ly/2XMc2QO.
Approximately one in three Latinas have experienced IPV in their lifetime.51Matthew J. Breiding, Jieru Chen, and Michele C. Black, “Intimate Partner Violence in the United States—2010,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2014, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/21961. More than four in 10 Latina homicides are committed by an intimate partner, and a firearm is used in nearly 60 percent of these deaths.52Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+. Fear of deportation, language barriers, and cultural stigma discourage many Latina victims from reporting abuse, seeking help, or filing for a protective order.53Jill T. Messing, Sujey Vega, and Alesha Durfee, “Protection Order Use among Latina Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence,” Feminist Criminology 12, no. 3 (2017): 199–223, https://doi.org/10.1177/1557085116678924; Chiara Sabina, Carlos A. Cuevas, and Erin Lannen, “The Likelihood of Latino Women to Seek Help in Response to Interpersonal Victimization: An Examination of Individual, Interpersonal and Sociocultural Influences,” Psychosocial Intervention 23, no. 2 (2014): 95–103, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psi.2014.07.005. For these reasons, this statistic is likely to be an undercount.54Carmen Alvarez and Gina Fedock, “Addressing Intimate Partner Violence with Latina Women: A Call for Research,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 4 (2018): 488–93, https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838016669508. While Latina victims of violence have long been hindered in accessing support for abuse, federal policies—including the removal of immigrants by ICE officers showing up in schools and at hearings for protective orders—have heightened the climate of fear to record levels.55Tahirih Justice Center et al., “May 2019 Findings: Immigrant Survivors Fear Reporting Violence,” June 2019, https://www.tahirih.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Advocate-Survey-Final.pdf (national survey finding that three out of four advocates and attorneys reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about going to court for a matter related to the abuser/offender, and over 76 percent reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about contacting the police).
More than four in 10 Latina homicides are committed by an intimate partner, and a firearm is used in nearly 60 percent of these deaths.
Source: CDC, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+.
The magnitude of intimate partner violence in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities is suspected to be far greater than we know. Yet, a report that compiled disaggregated samples of Asian ethnicities shows that 16 to 55 percent of Asian women report experiencing sexual violence, intimate physical violence, or both during their lifetime.56Mieko Yoshihama, Chic Dabby, and Shirley Lou, “Facts & Stats Report: Domestic Violence in Asian and Pacific Islander Homes,”Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, October 2020, https://www.api-gbv.org/resources/facts-stats-dv-api-homes/. While AAPI women die by intimate partner firearm homicide at a lower rate compared to other racial and ethnic groups, they experience the highest proportion of firearm homicides by intimate partners, with 58 percent of gun homicides of AAPI women being committed by an intimate partner.57Everytown analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), 2019. Ages 18–85+. AAPI defined as non-Latinx origin. Existing research may not reflect the reality of intimate partner violence in the AAPI community due to underreporting and the lack of AAPI-inclusive publicly reported data on IPV and firearm-related IPV.58Yoshihama, Dabby and Lou, “Facts & Stats Report: Domestic Violence in Asian and Pacific Islander Homes.” It is unlikely that AAPI survivors will seek professional help or report the abuse due to the resulting stigma and guilt it brings to survivors and their family.59Jennifer M. Weil and Hwayun H. Lee, “Cultural Considerations in Understanding Family Violence among Asian American Pacific Islander Families,” Journal of Community Health Nursing 21, no. 4 (2004): 217–27, https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327655jchn2104_2.
Segments of the LGBTQ+ population experience elevated rates of IPV.
Research on intimate partner homicides involving firearms among LGBTQ+ people is hindered by inconsistent reporting of sexual orientation and gender identity data on death records.60Michele Carroll, “‘Death Investigators’ Key Part of LGBTQ+ Health Equity Research,” USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, June 27, 2022, https://bit.ly/3yzCCAE; Ann P. Haas et al., “Collecting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Information at Death,” American Journal of Public Health 109, no. 2 (2019): 255–59, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304829; Ann P. Haas and Andrew Lane, on behalf of the Working Group for Postmortem Identification of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, “Collecting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Data in Suicide and Other Violent Deaths: A Step towards Identifying and Addressing LGBT Mortality Disparities,” LGBT Health 2, no. 1 (2015): 84–87, https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2014.0083. In a 2018 report on LGBTQ+ adults and gun violence, the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law identified this as a significant research gap.61Conron et al., “Gun Violence and LGBT Adults: Findings from the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey.” In the absence of this data, researchers have been working to garner an understanding of the prevalence of IPV among the LGBTQ+ population through surveys. This research suggests that bisexual women, lesbian women, and transgender individuals report the highest rates of lifetime IPV compared to their heterosexual and cisgender62The term “cisgender” is used to describe a non-transgender person, or someone whose gender identity aligns with the gender assigned to them at birth. counterparts.63Chen et al., “Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence by Sexual Orientation, United States;” Walters, Chen, and Breiding, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation;” James et al., ”The Report of the 2015 US Transgender Survey.”
People with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by abuse.
People with disabilities are particularly susceptible to IPV due to a variety of factors, including physical dependence on an abuser, perceived vulnerability by abusers, and higher levels of social isolation.64Powers et al., “Interpersonal Violence and Women with Disabilities;” Breiding and Armour, ”The Association between Disability and Intimate Partner Violence in the United States;” Smith, “Disability, Gender and Intimate Partner Violence.” It is undisputed that this group is more likely to be victims of violent crime and IPV compared to people without disabilities,65Erika Harrell, “Crime against Persons with Disabilities, 2009–2015—Statistical Tables,” United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2017, https://bit.ly/2J4mT0F; Breiding and Armour, “The Association between Disability and Intimate Partner Violence in the United States.” yet what is known likely accounts for just a fraction of the true impact because alarmingly little research exists on the intersection of firearms and IPV for this population.66Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sexual Violence and Intimate Partner Violence among People with Disabilities,” October 24, 2018, https://bit.ly/2SynqeY. According to the CDC, prevalence data on domestic and sexual violence against individuals with disabilities “likely underestimate the true burden of victimization, and exclude adults living in institutions such as prisons, group homes, and nursing homes” (settings with a high proportion of persons with disabilities). Women with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience IPV, including psychological aggression and stalking by an intimate partner, than women without disabilities67Breiding and Armour, “The Association between Disability and Intimate Partner Violence in the United States.”—behaviors that have been linked to increased trauma among victims when abusers have access to firearms.68Tami P. Sullivan and Nicole H. Weiss, “Is Firearm Threat in Intimate Relationships Associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms among Women?,” Violence and Gender 4, no. 2 (2017): 31–36, https://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2016.0024.
There are linkages between intimate partner violence, gun violence, and maternal health risk.
Intimate partner violence involving guns threatens the life and reproductive health of women. Homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in the United States, an even stronger cause than pregnancy-related complications.69Wallace et al., “Homicide during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period in the United States, 2018–2019;” Wallace, “Trends in Pregnancy-Associated Homicide, United States, 2020.” In 2020, the risk of homicide was 35 percent higher for pregnant and postpartum women than those who were neither.70Wallace et al., “Trends in Pregnancy-Associated Homicide, United States, 2020.” And more than four in five of these pregnant or postpartum women killed in a homicide were killed with a gun. Of all pregnancy-associated homicides that year, more than half occurred in the home.71Wallace, “Trends in Pregnancy-Associated Homicide, United States, 2020.” Girls and young women 10 to 24 years old and Black women are disproportionately impacted by pregnancy-associated homicides.72Wallace et al., “Homicide during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period in the United States, 2018–2019;” Wallace, “Trends in Pregnancy-Associated Homicide, United States, 2020.” Black defined as non-Hispanic origin. This elevated risk associated with pregnancy may include racial inequity within reproductive health care services and education, social support services, and protective services.
When Giovanna first met the man who would one day hold a gun to her head, he seemed perfect. He was charming, friendly, and respected in the community. Slowly, he isolated her from her loved ones and began controlling her every move. She was living with constant abuse. He started using a gun to intimidate her. He would threaten to shoot himself or her, sometimes in front of her two children. Giovanna requested a protective order, and the judge granted it—but allowed her abuser to keep his weapons, leaving her and her children vulnerable.
—Giovanna Rodriguez, member of the Everytown Survivor Network.
Laws that keep guns out of the hands of abusive partners reduce gun violence and IPV.73Zeoli et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide;” Díez et al., “State Intimate Partner Violence-Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015;” April M. Zeoli and Daniel W. Webster, “Effects of Domestic Violence Policies, Alcohol Taxes, and Police Staffing Levels on Intimate Partner Homicide in Large US Cities,” Injury Prevention 16, no. 2 (2010): 90–95, https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/16/2/90. However, existing loopholes in federal and state law leave guns in the hands of abusive partners and stalkers, often with deadly results.
The historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 (BSCA)74Everytown for Gun Safety, “What is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act?” June 21, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/what-is-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act/. is the first federal gun violence prevention law in nearly three decades, involving numerous gun safety measures— such as addressing the deadly dating partner loophole with regards to misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. However, much more needs to be done to strengthen this nation’s weak gun laws that fail many women across the United States each year. Members of Congress and state lawmakers can enact some clear policies now to save lives. These include:
- Strengthening state laws prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns and requiring abusers to relinquish guns they already have.
- Focusing on implementation and enforcement of existing state firearm relinquishment laws by state and local courts and law enforcement agencies.
- Strengthening the federal background check system to keep guns out of dangerous hands by closing deadly loopholes and addressing deficiencies including
– The dating partner loophole for domestic violence restraining orders
– The Charleston loophole
– The unlicensed sale loophole
and improving the specificity and timely submission of domestic violence records provided for purposes of background checks.
- Funding comprehensive research on the nexus of guns and intimate partner violence.
States should adopt or strengthen laws to disarm abusers.
Over the past nine years, survivors of IPV and volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have successfully advocated in 29 states and Washington, DC, to pass 52 new laws that help keep guns away from abusive partners, including the recently enacted BSCA. This federal law expanded the current prohibition preventing convicted domestic abusers from buying or possessing guns to include not only those who abused their current or former spouses, but also those who abused their current or recent dating partners.75Everytown for Gun Safety, “What is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act?” June 21, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/what-is-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act/.
Despite this progress, many states do not prohibit abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders or abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms.76Four states do not prohibit abusers subject to final domestic violence restraining orders: IN, NE, SD, and VT. Five states do not prohibit abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes: FL, NC, NH, VA, and WI. Fifteen states do not have either prohibitor: AK, AR, AZ, GA, ID, KY, MI, MO, MS, MT, ND, OH, OK, SC, and WY.
Even if a domestic abuser is barred by federal law from owning a gun, state and local prosecutors are powerless without analogous state law prohibitions, making it less likely that abusers are prosecuted for violating the law.77International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Firearms Policy Position Statement,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2SIGF5D. For example, in 2018, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) released a position paper announcing its support for “the adoption of common sense policies that will assist in reducing gun violence,” including an end to the gun-show loophole, establishing a firearms offender registry, and greater federal resources to aid state and local police officers in firearms enforcement programs. It is therefore critical for states to adopt these laws, which are proven to be effective. States that prohibit abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns have seen a 13 percent reduction in intimate partner firearm homicide rates.78Zeoli et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide.” The impact is even greater at a local level: cities in states that prohibit firearm possession by abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders have seen a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner firearm homicide rates.79Zeoli and Webster, “Effects of Domestic Violence Policies, Alcohol Taxes and Police Staffing Levels on Intimate Partner Homicide in Large US Cities.”
Congress and the states should also ensure that abusive partners actually relinquish their firearms when they become prohibited from possessing them.80See Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Everytown Gun Law Rankings: “Which States Require Prohibited Domestic Abusers to Turn in Any Guns After a Conviction?”; “Which States Require Prohibited Domestic Abusers to Turn in Any Guns While Under a Restraining Order?” The results in states that have enacted laws that encourage or require abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms speak for themselves: they result in a 14 to 16 percent lower intimate partner firearm homicide rate.81Díez et al., “State Intimate Partner Violence-Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015;” Zeoli et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide.” In addition, a recent study found that state laws that prohibit abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing firearms and required relinquishment of firearms were associated with lower rates of homicides among pregnant and postpartum women.82Maeve E. Wallace et al., “Firearm Relinquishment Laws Associated with Substantial Reduction in Homicide of Pregnant and Postpartum Women,” Health Affairs 40, no. 10 (2021): 1654–62, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01129.
State and local courts and law enforcement agencies should focus on implementation and enforcement of existing domestic violence laws.
Despite the above evidence of the effectiveness of laws requiring abusers to relinquish their firearms, many states have not fully implemented these laws, leaving survivors at risk. Full application and enforcement of firearm relinquishment laws require all parts of the justice system to contribute:
- State and local leaders should facilitate law enforcement training about relinquishment laws and how to safely enforce them.
- Court administrators should ensure that all judges receive training about firearm prohibition and relinquishment laws and that court forms provide survivors and abusers with information about their rights and obligations.
- Judges should order firearm relinquishment in all cases required by state law, ensure that abusers understand the requirement to relinquish firearms, and monitor compliance with firearm relinquishment orders.
- State executives such as state attorneys general and governors’ offices should review court and law enforcement practices and implementation data to verify that prohibited abusers have relinquished their firearms.
- Law enforcement agencies should develop a protocol for storage of firearms and should regularly communicate compliance and noncompliance by respondents to the courts and prosecutors.
- District attorneys should fully prosecute abusers found to be noncompliant or in unlawful possession of firearms.
Jurisdictions that have fully implemented these laws have seen immediate safety improvements. For example, in King County, Washington, a regional domestic violence firearms enforcement unit staffed by law enforcement, prosecutors, and members of the City Attorney’s Office works to ensure that defendants subject to a domestic violence protective order relinquish their firearms. The result: the team more than quadrupled the number of firearms recovered in domestic violence cases in the region in 2018, as compared to 2016.83United States Government Accountability Office, “Report to the Acting Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Gun Control: Analyzing Available Data Could Help Improve Background Checks Involving Domestic Violence Records,” July 2016, https://bit.ly/2CkTs94.
Jurisdictions without state-based firearm prohibition and relinquishment laws have also provided leadership in protecting survivors of domestic violence.84In Dallas County, Texas, a gun surrender program pioneered by Judge Roberto Cañas created a partnership between the courts and law enforcement, enabling domestic violence offenders to safely surrender firearms to law enforcement officers when they became prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. Laura Choi, Rachel Elkin, and Monica Harasim, “Taking Aim at Family Violence: A Report on the Dallas County Gun Surrender Program,” Spring 2017, https://bit.ly/3EPdji3. Local law enforcement officers in these jurisdictions should report to federal prosecutors’ offices cases where domestic abusers are found in possession of a firearm for prosecution on unlawful firearms possession charges—a policy supported by the US Department of Justice.85Choi, Elkin, and Harasim “Taking Aim at Family Violence.”
Congress and state legislatures should strengthen the background check system by closing deadly loopholes.
Congress should close the dating partner and stalking loopholes in the federal gun prohibition laws.
Current federal law prohibits abusers under restraining orders from possessing guns only if the abuser has been married to, lives with, or has a child in common with the victim.8618 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), (9); 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(32). The law applies to abusers under restraining orders only if the abuser has been married to, lives with, or has a child in common with the victim. The law also covers children of abusers and of abusers’ intimate partners. The recently passed BSCA prohibits current and recent dating partners convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from possessing or purchasing firearms. However, the law left out dating partners under domestic violence restraining orders, who continue to remain federally eligible to access firearms.87S.2938, Sec. 12005(a) (Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence). While the BSCA represents the first Congressional acknowledgment that dating partners pose the same threat as spouses, federal and state law must go further to meaningfully address the threat, given the changing nature of relationships in the United States in recent decades.88Couples are delaying marriage, and the median age of first marriage for women has increased from 22 in 1990 to 28 in 2018. US Census Bureau, “Estimated Median Age of First Marriage by Sex: 1890 to the Present (table),” November 2018, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/families/marital.html.
This gap in the law has become increasingly deadly. The share of homicides committed by dating partners has been increasing for three decades,89Alexia Cooper and Erica L. Smith, “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008,” US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2011, https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf. and now women are as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses.90Cooper and Smith, “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008.” Additionally, current federal law does not prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking crimes from having guns.91Stalking is typically defined as repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person. See, e.g., Fla. Stat. § 784.048. A number of states and Washington, DC, have addressed this federal loophole through policies that prohibit abusive dating partners and convicted stalkers from possessing guns.92See Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Everytown Gun Law Rankings: “Which States Prohibit Convicted Domestic Abusers from Having Guns?”; “Which States Prohibit Domestic Abusers under Restraining Orders from Having Guns?”; “Which States Prohibit People with Stalking Convictions from Having Firearms?”. Research shows that when states broadened their firearm prohibition laws beyond federal law to cover abusive dating partners, the states experienced a 16 percent reduction in intimate partner firearm homicide rates.93The study also found the law to be associated with a 13 percent reduction in overall intimate partner homicide rates. Zeoli et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide.”
Congress and state legislatures should close the Charleston loophole that puts victims of IPV at heightened risk.
Federal law requires that licensed gun dealers run background checks on all potential gun buyers. But due to a provision added to the 1993 Brady Bill, the law allows sales to proceed by default after three business days—even in the absence of confirmation that the buyer is legally allowed to have guns.94This loophole is the one through which the shooter at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, obtained the firearm he used in the shooting on June 17, 2015. The shooter, who was prohibited from possessing firearms due to an earlier drug arrest, was able to purchase the gun he used in the shooting because the default proceed period had elapsed, and the dealer made the sale even though the background check was not complete. From 2006 to 2015, 30 percent of gun sale denials by licensed dealers to buyers convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse took longer than three business days.95United States Government Accountability Office, “Gun Control: Analyzing Available Data Could Help Improve Background Checks Involving Domestic Violence Records.” That means licensed dealers were legally authorized under federal law to transfer guns to 18,000 people who were prohibited domestic violence misdemeanants simply because their background checks took longer than three days.96United States Government Accountability Office, “Gun Control: Analyzing Available Data Could Help Improve Background Checks Involving Domestic Violence Records.” In 2017 alone, licensed dealers sold guns to 1,120 prohibited domestic abusers because a federal background check could not be completed within three business days. United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, “National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Operations, 2017,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2Hu9H7j. This is likely to be an undercount since it is based solely on background checks conducted by the FBI and does not include data from Point of Contact states that conduct their own background checks. Congress and state legislatures should prohibit a firearm transfer until the results of a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check indicate that the buyer is not prohibited from possessing guns.97Multiple states and Washington, DC, have laws that give authorities longer than three business days to complete a background check on potential gun buyers; see Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Everytown Gun Law Rankings: ”Which States Have Closed or Limited the Charleston Loophole?”
States should improve the quality of domestic violence records in the background check system.
Convicted domestic abusers and subjects of domestic violence restraining orders are prohibited from having guns under federal law, but a Government Accountability Office report indicates that some court records for these abusers are missing from the background check system, and others are not identifiable as prohibiting.98United States Government Accountability Office, “Gun Control: Analyzing Available Data Could Help Improve Background Checks Involving Domestic Violence Records.” When a prohibited abuser tries to buy a gun and undergoes an NICS check, the sale will be stopped only if their record is in the system and contains sufficient information to identify it as prohibiting. States need to ensure that all domestic violence criminal records and domestic violence restraining orders are entered into the NICS database in a timely manner.99Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) records may be flagged through the Identification for Firearm Sales program, and domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) records may be flagged with a Brady indicator or the point-of-contact (POC) code 07. It is also important for states to place special flags on these records when submitting them to the system to indicate that they prohibit a person from possessing firearms under federal law. If a record is flagged as prohibiting and the offender attempts to buy a gun, the background check operator will see the flag and will instantly know that the sale should be denied, reducing the possibility of selling to a prohibited domestic abuser due to the Charleston loophole.
Congress and state legislatures should ensure that prohibited domestic abusers and stalkers cannot evade background checks by purchasing guns from unlicensed, private sellers.
Since the introduction of the NICS in 1998, more than 500,000 firearm sales to domestic abusers have been blocked. Every year, one in eight prohibited purchasers denied by a background check are domestic abusers.100United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Publications & Products: Background Checks for Firearm Transfers,” https://bit.ly/2F4vMYw. Data on federal- and state-level denials were obtained from the BJS reports for the years 1999–2010 and 2012–2018. Local-level denials were available and included only for the years 2012 and 2014–2018 from the BJS reports. Data for the years 2011 and 2019–2021 were obtained by Everytown for Gun Safety from the FBI directly. Though the majority of the transactions and denials reported by the FBI and BJS are associated with a firearm sale or transfer, a small number may be for concealed-carry permits and other reasons not related to a sale or transfer. Totals include both those who are prohibited due to a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) conviction and those who are denied due to restraining or protection orders for domestic violence. However, federal law requires background checks only for sales by licensed dealers. While many states and Washington, DC, go further and require background checks on all handgun sales,101See Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Everytown Gun Law Rankings: “Which States Require Background Checks and/or Permits to Purchase Handguns?” domestic abusers and convicted stalkers can circumvent the system in states that do not require checks for private sales by purchasing firearms from private sellers online or at a gun show.102See Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Everytown Gun Law Rankings: “Which States Require Background Checks and/or Permits to Purchase Handguns?”
Congress and states should support more comprehensive research on intimate partner gun violence.
Since the passing of a Congressional budget restriction known as the Dickey Amendment in 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have severely underfunded gun violence research. In 2019 and 2020, for the first time in decades, Congress passed a funding bill each year that appropriated $25 million for gun violence research. States can support research by dedicating funding to violence prevention centers aimed at studying these issues, such as those at the University of California–Davis and Rutgers University.103Carole Gan, “Nation’s First State-Funded Firearm Violence Research Center to Be Established at UC Davis,” UC Davis, press release, August 29, 2016, https://bit.ly/3TfWNvs; Lilo H. Stainton, “New Jersey Looks to California for Gun Violence Research Model,” NJ Spotlight, April 3, 2018, https://bit.ly/2BYbjmn. Federal and state governments should also support the improvement and expansion of data collection and reporting systems to enable further research on IPV and guns.
Gun violence and IPV are deeply interconnected, with devastating impacts not only on individual victims, but also on their families, communities, and the nation. Research has clearly shown that guns can turn IPV deadly. Abusers with access to a gun are five times more likely to kill their female victims. But because of loopholes in federal and state laws and failures to implement and enforce them, many women live in states where current laws do little to curb the uniquely lethal problem of guns and violence against women in the United States.
The evidence is clear: Laws keeping guns out of the hands of abusers are associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides. Congress and state legislatures should pass comprehensive gun safety laws to disarm abusive partners and save lives. Similarly, steps should be taken by state and local courts and law enforcement agencies to implement existing laws. Finally, it is important to fund comprehensive research on the nexus of IPV and gun violence to support the development of solutions that address women’s disproportionate experiences of abuse.
We are grateful to the following experts for their comments and valuable feedback that contributed to making this report accurate, comprehensive, and precise:
Julie Bancroft, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Amy Barasch, Her Justice
Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing
Cailin Crockett, National Security Council
Lois Fasnacht, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
David Keck, Legal Action of Wisconsin
Sara Krall, End Abuse Wisconsin
TK Logan, PhD, University of Kentucky Department of Behavioral Science
Tasha Menaker, PhD, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence
Emily Rothman, ScD, Boston University School of Public Health
Juanito Vargas, Commonpoint Queens
April Zeoli, PhD, University of Michigan School of Public Health
Support for those in crisis
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7, for confidential assistance from a trained advocate. You can also find more resources on legal assistance in English and Spanish at WomensLaw.org. For additional resources on emotional, medical, financial, and legal consequences of gun violence for individuals and communities, please visit Everytown’s Resources page.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.