Guns and Violence Against Women: America’s Uniquely Lethal Domestic Violence Problem

April 1, 2019

“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.”

—Angela, gun violence prevention advocate and survivor of domestic abuse

 

In the United States, more than one in three women report experiencing abuse from a partner in their lifetime.Smith SG, Zhang X, Basile KC, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 data brief - updated Release. https://bit.ly/2DbVS9S. November 2018. The effects of this abuse are far-reaching, impacting not only individual victims, but also their families, their communities, and our economy. When domestic abusers have access to guns, the effects can be deadly. This nexus between guns and domestic violence makes the US the most dangerous country for women compared to other high-income countries.

Introduction

Domestic violence is a major threat to American women, and guns are a prevalent and particularly dangerous component of this violence. Over half of female victims of intimate partner homicide in the US are killed with a gun.Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), 2013-2017. While the FBI SHR does not include data from Florida for the years 2013 to 2017, Everytown for Gun Safety obtained data directly from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and included the reported homicides in this analysis. Whereas SHR includes both current and former partners in its relationship designations, FDLE does not include former partners. As a result, Florida's intimate partner violence data includes only current partners. But even if they never pull the trigger, abusers frequently use guns to threaten and control their victims. While firearm-related domestic violence touches all communities, women of color are disproportionately impacted.

Research shows that common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers reduce gun violence and save lives. Existing loopholes in federal and state law leave guns in the hands of dangerous domestic abusers and stalkers, often with deadly results. America’s weak gun laws failed Giovanna, just as they fail countless other women across the US each year. Giovanna requested a protective order, yet the law did not require her abuser to turn in the guns he already owned, leaving her vulnerable.

Read: Giovanna’s Story

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.This narrative was provided by Giovanna Rodriguez, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

This research focuses on the lethality of guns in domestic violence and the disproportionate impact of firearm-related domestic violence on certain groups and communities. It concludes with evidence-based policy recommendations that are proven to save lives.

Impact of Domestic Violence and Gun Violence

Guns and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence and gun violence are deeply interconnected; research clearly shows that guns in a domestic violence situation have devastating consequences.

The deadly intersection between guns and domestic violence is an all too common occurrence and a uniquely American problem.

92 percent of all women killed with guns in high-income countries in 2015 were from the US.

Women in the US are 25 times more likely to be killed by guns than women in other high-income countries.Grinshteyn E, Hemenway D. Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries, 2015. Preventive Medicine. 2019; 123: 20–26. Put another way, 92 percent of all women killed with guns in high-income countries in 2015 were from the US.Ibid. And an astonishing share of this gun violence in America is driven by domestic violence. In an average month, at least 52 American women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and many more are injured.Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), 2013-2017. While the FBI SHR does not include data from the state of Florida for the years 2013 to 2017, Everytown for Gun Safety obtained data directly from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and included the reported homicides in the analysis. Whereas SHR includes both current and former partners in its relationship designations, FDLE does not include former partners. As a result, Florida's intimate partner violence data includes only current partners. Nearly 1 million women in the US alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner.Sorenson SB, Schut RA. Nonfatal gun use in intimate partner violence: a systematic review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2018; 19(4): 431-442.

Most mass shootings in the US are related to domestic or family violence. Everytown for Gun Safety’s analysis of mass shootings from 2009 to 2017—incidents in which four or more people are shot and killed, not including the shooter—shows that in at least 54 percent of these incidents, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.Everytown for Gun Safety. Mass Shootings in the United States, 2009-2017. https://every.tw/1XVAmcc. December 2018.

Abusers use guns to threaten and control their victims even if they never pull the trigger, and these forms of abuse have severe effects on survivors.

“The fear of a firearm threat is significantly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s stronger even than the link between physical or sexual abuse and PTSD.”

About 4.5 million American women alive today report having been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.Sorenson SB, Schut RA. Nonfatal gun use in intimate partner violence: a systematic review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2018; 19(4): 431-442. More than one in three callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline report being threatened with a gun by their abuser, and more than three-fourths of those women report being stalked by their ex-partner.Logan TK, Lynch KR. Dangerous liaisons: examining the connection of stalking and gun threats among partner abuse victims. Violence and Victims. 2018; 33(3): 399-416. Domestic violence can be characterized by many types of abuse—physical, psychological, sexual. The presence of a gun can exacerbate these various forms of abuse with lasting consequences for survivors. Nearly 80 percent of callers to the hotline said that they felt less safe knowing their partner had access to a gun, due to frequent comments by their abuser about how they would use the weapon against others.Ibid. One study of domestic violence and coercive control found that women who had been threatened with a gun or feared that their partner would use one against them had more severe psychological symptoms than women who had endured other types of abuse, such as psychological or physical threats.Sullivan, TP, Weiss NH. Is firearm threat in intimate relationships associated with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among women? Violence and Gender. 2017; 4(2): 31-36. According to the author, “the fear of a firearm threat—just the fear of the threat, not even the actual threat—is significantly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s stronger even than the link between physical or sexual abuse and PTSD.”Mascia J. No shots fired. The Trace. September 12, 2018. https://bit.ly/2QAOSg7. Angela is one of many survivors who have lived with the fear of being shot and killed by their ex-husband.

Read: Angela’s Story

Angela is a mother, grandmother, former law enforcement official, and a survivor of domestic abuse. Angela’s 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.This narrative was provided by Angela Wright, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

Access to firearms by domestic abusers is too often the difference between life and death for a woman.

Public health researchers have established that in a domestic abuse situation, abusers’ access to a gun significantly increases the risk of death for women compared to victims whose partners do not have a household firearm.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160(2): 101-110; Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk factors for femicide within physically abuse intimate relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(7): 1089-1097. Access to a gun makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed by her abusive partner.Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk factors for femicide within physically abuse intimate relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(7): 1089-1097. The use of a gun by an abuser to threaten or intimidate their partner has been so well studied that researchers and victim advocates recognize it as a key predictor for domestic violence homicides.Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(7): 1089-1097; Nicolaidis C, Curry MA, Ulrich Y, 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. 2003; 18(10): 788-794. La’Shea is a domestic violence survivor advocating for gun violence prevention by telling her story of domestic abuse with a gun.

Read: La’Shea’s Story

La’Shea was at her aunt’s house with her children when her ex-boyfriend shot her five times, then shot himself. “He used to show up at my work and threaten me,” she recalls several incidents. La’Shea went into a coma but miraculously survived. Today, the five bullets are still inside her. Her daughter is now an adult, and La’Shea wants her daughter and others to know that domestic violence is real.This narrative was provided by La’Shea Cretain, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

There is no research to support the notion that owning a gun increases safety for women; in fact, studies have shown the contrary.

The gun lobby has suggested that arming women instead of focusing on policies that disarm domestic abusers would better serve to protect women from abuse. There is no research to support the notion that owning a gun increases safety for women; in fact, studies have shown the contrary. Compared to men, women living in households with a firearm are at greater risk of the weapon being used to harm them.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160(2): 101-110. A study of female intimate partner homicide risk factors found no protective impact of owning a gun among women even when they lived away from their abuser.Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(7): 1089-1097. A California study found that women who owned a gun died by firearm homicide at twice the rate of women who did not.Wintemute GJ, Parham CA, Beaumont JJ, et al. Mortality among recent purchasers of handguns. New England Journal of Medicine. 1999; 341(21): 1583–1589.

The Disproportionate Impact of Firearm-Related Domestic Violence on Women of Color

Although race itself is not a risk factor for domestic violence,Pinchevsky GM, Wright EM. The impact of neighborhoods on intimate partner violence and victimization. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2012; 13(2): 112-132. women of color experience harsher consequences of this abuse, due largely to structural disadvantages including poverty, racial residential segregation and household income inequality.McCall PL, Land KC, Parker KF. An empirical assessment of what we know about structural covariates of homicide rates: a return to a classic 20 years later. Homicide Studies. 2010;14(3) 219-243. http://tiny.cc/8jsc4y These factors also explain the underlying disparities in firearm homicide rates among women of color, particularly Black women. We know that not all communities bear the burden of domestic abuse and gun violence in equal measure, and a lack of data specifically examining the intersection of guns and domestic violence among vulnerable populations, limits our understanding of the scope of the problem.

Women of color—particularly those from populations affected by systemic poverty, structural discrimination, and longstanding mistrust of law enforcement—are victimized at disproportionately higher rates.

Compared to white women, Black women are twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, Black women have the highest homicide rate, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native women and Hispanic women.Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United States, 2003-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017; 66(28): 741–746. Non-Hispanic Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population respectively). The vast majority of these female homicides are committed by intimate partners and involve a gun.Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United States, 2003-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017; 66(28): 741–746. Compared to white women, Black women are twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner,Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), 2013-2017. Analysis includes homicides involving an intimate partner and a firearm and compares the crude death rates for Black women (0.65 per 100,000) versus white women (0.35 per 100,000) (all ages included; Hispanic and non-Hispanic women included). While the FBI SHR does not include data from the state of Florida for the years 2013 to 2017, Everytown for Gun Safety obtained data directly from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and included the reported homicides in the analysis. Whereas SHR includes both current and former partners in its relationship designations, FDLE does not include former partners. As a result, Florida’s intimate partner violence data includes only current partners. and Black women between the ages of 18 and 34 are at the greatest risk of intimate partner firearm homicide: they are nearly three times more likely to be shot and killed by an intimate partner than are white women in the same age group.Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), 2013-2017. While the FBI SHR does not include data from the state of Florida for the years 2013 to 2017, Everytown for Gun Safety obtained data directly from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and included the reported homicides in the analysis. Analysis includes homicides involving an intimate partner and a firearm and compares the crude death rates for Black women ages 18-34 (1.43 per 100,000) versus white women ages 18-34 (0.49 per 100,000) (Hispanic and non-Hispanic women included).

This disparity between Black and white women reflects broader firearm homicide trends: Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to be shot and killedCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. Data reflect a 5-year average (2013 to 2017) of firearm homicide deaths, non-Hispanic females, all ages; age-adjusted rate for Black females is 3.3 deaths per 100,000 people and for white females, 0.9 deaths per 100,000 people. and have a higher firearm-homicide rate compared to women of all other races.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. Data reflect a 5-year average (2013 to 2017) of firearm homicide deaths.

Female Firearm Homicide Rates 2013-2017 per 100,000 women: Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to be shot and killed.

More than three out of five Hispanic female homicides are committed by intimate partners, and a firearm is used in nearly half of these deaths.

Hispanic women also experience high rates of domestic abuse and gun violence. About one in three Hispanic women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.Smith SG, Zhang X, Basile KC, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 data brief - updated release. https://bit.ly/2DbVS9S. November 2018. More than three out of five Hispanic female homicides are committed by intimate partners, and a firearm is used in nearly half of these deaths.Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United States, 2003-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017; 66(28): 741–746. This is likely to be an undercount,Alvarez C, Fedock G. Addressing intimate partner violence with Latina women: a call for research. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2018. 19(4), 488–493. because research suggests that in addition to socioeconomic factors, fear of discrimination and deportation discourages undocumented and immigrant Hispanic women from seeking help and protective orders against their domestic abusers.Messing JT, Vega S, Durfee A. Protection order use among Latina survivors of intimate partner violence. Feminist Criminology. 2017; 12(3): 199-223; Sabina C, Cuevas CA, Lannen E. The likelihood of Latino women to seek help in response to interpersonal victimization: an examination of individual, interpersonal and sociocultural influences. Psychosocial Intervention. 2014; 23(2): 95-103.

Economically distressed neighborhoods and household poverty—both of which stem from systematic underinvestment and legacies of community segregation—are correlated with greater rates of firearm fatalities among Black women and the Black community more broadly.Knopov A, Rothman EF, Cronin SW, 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. 2019; 110(1): 62-75. 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. Environmental stressors such as povertyBenson ML, Fox GL. United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. When violence hits home: how economics and neighborhood play a role. https://bit.ly/2TpGfFU. September 2004. and community-level violence contribute to higher rates of intimate partner homicide among Black women.Pinchevsky GM, Wright EM. The impact of neighborhoods on intimate partner violence and victimization. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2012; 13(2): 112-132. Limited access to services and support, including shelters and healthcare, among Black women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods adds to their risk.West CM. Battered, Black, and blue: an overview of violence in the lives of Black women. Women & Therapy. 2014; 25(3-4): 1-211. Research also suggests that underlying health inequities that are the result of barriers in language, culture, and geography may contribute to the racial and ethnic disparities in overall female homicide rates.Smedley BD, Stith AY, Nelson AR. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Unequal treatment: confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. https://bit.ly/2HjjX2L. 2003. Victims from communities characterized by mistrust of the criminal justice system can face greater vulnerability to gun violence as they may be less likely to solicit help from police or domestic violence programs.Alvarez C, Fedock G. Addressing intimate partner violence with Latina women: a call for research. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2018; 19(4): 488-493.

Alaska Native and American Indian women, people with disabilities, and segments of the LGBTQ community, are disproportionately impacted by abuse, but there is alarmingly little data on the intersection of firearms and domestic violence among these populations because of chronic underreporting.

Alaska Native and American Indian women experience high rates of intimate partner violence,Rosay AB. Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men. National Institute of Justice. Journal 277. October 19, 2016. https://bit.ly/2Tn7Sv3 and the national epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is not well recordedDomonoske C. Police in many U.S. cities fail to track murdered, missing indigenous women. National Public Radio. November 15, 2018. https://n.pr/2QpUQiU. partly due to the tribal law enforcement’s lack of access to federal crime reporting databases.United States 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. 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. This means violent crimes against women in tribal lands are not consistently reflected in national crime statistics. The CDC estimates that more than half of all Alaska Native and American Indian female homicides are domestic violence-related.Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United States, 2003-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017; 66(28): 741–746

Women with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience psychological aggression and stalking by an intimate partner than women without disabilities—behaviors that have been linked to increased trauma among victims when abusers have access to firearms.

People with disabilities experience high rates of domestic violence, yet what is known only scratches the surface due to gaps in data among this population.Centers 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). While there is insufficient research on the use of firearms among people with disabilities, it is undisputed that this group is more likely to suffer violent victimization by an intimate partner—at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities.Harrell E. United States. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Crime against persons with disabilities, 2009-2015 – Statistical Tables. https://bit.ly/2J4mT0F. July 2017. Women with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience psychological aggression and stalking by an intimate partner than women without disabilitiesBreiding MJ, Armour BS. The association between disability and intimate partner violence in the United States. Annals of Epidemiology. 2015; 25(6): 455-457.—behaviors that have been linked to increased trauma among victims when abusers have access to firearms.Sullivan TP, Weiss NH. Is firearm threat in intimate relationships associated with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among women? Violence and Gender. 2017; 4(2): 31-36.

Research on intimate partner homicides involving firearms among LGBTQ people is limited due to lack of sexual orientation and gender identity data recorded on death records.Haas AP, Lane A, on behalf of the Working Group for Postmortem Identification of SO/GI. Collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data in suicide and other violent deaths: a step towards identifying and addressing LGBT mortality disparities. LGBT Health. 2015; 2(1): 84-87. However, the growing body of research on the prevalence of intimate partner violence among LGBTQ people suggests that in particular, bisexual women and transgender people are more likely to report lifetime intimate partner violence compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts, respectively.Walters ML, Chen J, Breiding MJ. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. https://bit.ly/2nRCTfb. January 2013. For example, 1 in 3 bisexual women (36.6 percent) compared to 1 in 6 heterosexual women (15.5 percent) have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime. For all forms of partner violence, 61.1 percent of bisexual women and 35 percent of heterosexual women report IPV in their lifetime.; James SE, Herman JL, Rankin S, Keisling M, Mottet L, Anafi M. National Center for Transgender Equality. The report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. https://bit.ly/2BXZcma. December, 2016. More research is necessary to understand the role of firearms in intimate partner violence within the LGBTQ community. In a recent report on LGBTQ adults and gun violence, the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law identified this as a significant research gap.Conron KJ, Goldberg SK, Flores AR, et al. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Gun violence and LGBT adults: findings from the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey. https://bit.ly/2SHcgoq. November 2018.

Public Safety and the Economic Impact of Domestic Violence With Guns

The impact of domestic violence with guns extends beyond the intimate partner relationship, significantly impacting others, especially children, and has real public safety and economic consequences for society.

Abusers with guns not only kill their partners, but also often take the lives of family, friends, coworkers, and responding law enforcement officers.

Nearly two-thirds of child fatalities involving domestic violence were caused by guns.

A study of intimate partner homicides in 16 states found that one in five victims were family members, including children, friends, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, and strangers. Firearms were used to kill approximately 70 percent of these victims.Smith SG, Fowler KA, Niolon PH. Intimate partner homicide and corollary victims in 16 states: National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003–2009. American Journal of Public Health. 2014; 104(3): 461-466. Children are particularly affected. They are frequent casualties of domestic violence homicides when a gun is involved. Between 2009 and 2017, 86 percent of child victims of mass shootings died in incidents connected to domestic violence.Everytown for Gun Safety. Mass Shootings in the United States, 2009-2017. https://every.tw/1XVAmcc. December 2018. Data drawn from 16 states indicate that nearly two-thirds of child fatalities involving domestic violence were caused by guns.Adhia A, Austin SB, Fitzmaurice GM, et al. The role of intimate partner violence in homicides of children aged 2-14 years. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2019; 56(1): 38-46. Hollie is one of many survivors who lost her child to gun violence by an abusive partner.

Read: Hollie’s Story

Hollie survived being shot in the legs and face by her ex-husband when she dropped off their 2½-year-old son, Michael, for a supervised visit on March 23, 2013, in Petersburg, PA. Tragically, her ex shot and killed Michael before fatally shooting himself. Hollie had a restraining order against her ex, which prohibited him from possessing a firearm, although 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.”This narrative was provided by Hollie Ayers, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

There is ample evidence that children who witness domestic abuse in their homes suffer life-altering consequences, including severe PTSD symptoms, behavioral problems, and suicidal thoughts.Hardesty JL, Campbell JC, McFarlane JM, et al. How children and their caregivers adjust after intimate partner femicide. Journal of Family Issues. 2008; 29(1): 100-124. These impacts have been shown to significantly disrupt children’s school performanceAlisic E, Krishna RN, Groot A, et al. Children's mental health and well-being after parental intimate partner homicide: a systematic review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 2015; 18(4): 328-345. and can carry over into adulthood.Lysell H, Dahlin M, Langstrom N, et al. Killing the mother of one's child: psychiatric risk factors among male perpetrators and offspring health consequences. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2016; 77(3): 342-347.

The physical and emotional toll of domestic violence brings an economic cost to individual victims, their children, and society at large.

The lifetime economic cost to the US of intimate partner violence is estimated by the CDC at $3.6 trillion.

The lifetime economic cost to the US of intimate partner violence is estimated by the CDC at $3.6 trillion. This estimate is based on the 32 million women and 12 million men who are victims of intimate partner violence during their lives.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Intimate partner violence: consequences. https://bit.ly/2n4ylCs. These costs are from medical expenses, lost productivity among victims and perpetrators, criminal justice proceedings, and other costs such as property loss or damage. Just looking at productivity alone, domestic violence in the United States leads to 13.5 million days of lost work each year.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. https://bit.ly/2pqPfZv. March 2003. A recent study found that the combined costs of children’s exposure to domestic violence amounts to over $50,000 per child, adding up to over $55 billion annually nationwide.Holmes MR, Richter FGC, Votruba ME, et al. Economic burden of child exposure to intimate partner violence in the United States. Journal of Family Violence. 2018; 33(4): 239-249. These financial estimates include medical costs, the use of social services, workforce productivity, and criminal justice system involvement.Ibid.

Policy Recommendations

Domestic violence and gun violence are intimately connected—a deadly combination exacerbated by America’s weak gun laws. Evidence clearly shows that policies that disrupt domestic abusers’ access to guns are effective at reducing intimate partner gun violence. Fortunately, there are straightforward steps that members of Congress and state lawmakers can take to save lives.

Congress should close the loopholes in the federal gun prohibitions to keep guns out of the hands of abusive dating partners and convicted stalkers.

Current federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence crimes and abusers under restraining orders from having guns, but the law applies only if the abuser has been married to, lived with, or has a child in common with the victim.18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), (9); 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(32), (33). The law also covers children of abusers and of abusers’ intimate partners. It does not cover abusive dating partners. This gap in the law has become increasingly deadly: the share of homicides committed by dating partners has been increasing for three decades,Cooper AD, Smith EL. United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicide trends in the United States, 1980-2008. https://bit.ly/2HdoqDx. November 16, 2011. and now women are as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses.Cooper AD, Smith EL. Homicide trends in the United States, 1980-2008. Bureau of Justice Statistics. November 16, 2011. Additionally, current federal law does not prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking crimes from having guns. A 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.MacFarlane JM, Campbell JC, Wilt S, et al. Stalking and intimate partner femicide. Homicide Studies. 1999; 3( 4):300-316.

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.

Nineteen states and Washington, DC, have addressed this loophole by adopting laws prohibiting abusive dating partners convicted of domestic violence crimes from possessing guns.CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, IN, KS, MA, ME, MD, MN, NE, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA, and WV. Twenty states and Washington, DC, prohibit dating partners under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms.CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, LA, MA, MD, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, WA, WI, and WV. And 19 states and Washington, DC, have prohibited all convicted stalkers from possessing firearms.AZ, CA, CO, DE, DC, HI, IL, IN, MA, MN, MD, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, SC, TX, VT, and WI. 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 and a 13 percent reduction in intimate partner homicide rates.Zeoli AM, McCourt A, Buggs S, 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. 2018; 187(7): 1449-1455.

States should adopt or strengthen laws prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns and require these abusers to relinquish their guns once they become prohibited from having them.

While an increasing number of states have adopted laws in recent years to disrupt abusers’ access to guns, many states are still lagging behind. Since the beginning of 2013, 28 states and Washington, DC, have passed 50 new laws that help keep guns away from domestic abusers. Survivors of domestic violence and volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have led this charge to make their states safer for women. Despite this progress, currently 20 states do not prohibit abusers subject to final domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms,AK, AR, AZ, GA, ID, IN, KY, MI, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NM, OH, OK, SC, SD, VT, and WY. and 21 states do not prohibit abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms.AK, AR, AZ, FL, GA, ID, KY, MI, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NH, NM, OH, OK, SC, VA, WI, and WY. While domestic abusers in those states cannot possess guns under federal law, local law enforcement may not have the resources or mandate to enforce the federal prohibitions.International Association of Chiefs of Police. Firearms policy position statement. https://bit.ly/2SIGF5D. 2018. 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.

Additionally, Congress and states should ensure that prohibited domestic abusers actually relinquish their firearms when they become prohibited from possessing them. Currently, 19 states and Washington, DC, require abusers subject to final domestic violence restraining orders to turn in their guns, and 16 states require convicted domestic violence misdemeanants to do so.

States that have enacted laws requiring abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms in addition to prohibiting firearm possession saw a 14-16 percent lower intimate partner firearm homicide rate.

States that restrict access to guns by abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders have seen a 13 percent reduction in intimate partner firearm homicide rates and a 10 percent reduction in intimate partner homicide rates.Zeoli AM, McCourt A, Buggs S, 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. 2018; 187(7): 1449-1455. Earlier research suggests that the impact is greater at a local level: Cities in states that restrict access to guns by abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders have seen a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner firearm homicide rates.Zeoli AM, Webster DW. Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities. Injury Prevention. 2010; 16(2): 90-95. States with laws that explicitly require abusers to relinquish their firearms have seen a greater reduction in intimate partner homicides than states without such laws. States that have enacted laws requiring abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms in addition to prohibiting firearm possession saw a 14-16 percent lower intimate partner firearm homicide rate and a 10-12 percent lower intimate partner homicide rate.Díez C, Kurland RP, Rothman EF, 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. 2017; 167(8): 536-543; Zeoli AM, McCourt A, Buggs S, 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. 2018; 187(7): 1449-1455.

State and local courts and law enforcement agencies should prioritize full implementation and enforcement of laws that require domestic abusers to relinquish any guns they own.

Despite evidence that requiring prohibited domestic abusers to relinquish their guns saves lives, many states have not fully implemented these laws. This leaves survivors of domestic violence at risk of ongoing harm and increases the risk posed to law enforcement when enforcing these laws.

Full application and enforcement of firearm relinquishment laws requires all parts of the justice system to contribute to ensure survivor and officer safety. To ensure that all prohibited abusers actually relinquish their firearms, 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 are aware of firearm prohibition and relinquishment laws and that court forms are updated to provide survivors and abusers with information about their rights and obligations. State executives should periodically review court and law enforcement practices and implementation data to verify that all prohibited abusers have actually relinquished their firearms.

Similarly, state and local executives in areas without state-level firearm relinquishment laws should work in coordination across the justice system to ensure the safety of domestic violence survivors. Law enforcement officers and courts should be trained to identify when domestic violence abusers would be prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law. They should exercise their authority to ensure that abusers are informed when they become prohibited from possessing a firearm, and that they surrender those firearms. Agencies should also provide survivors with up-to-date information about whether their abusers possess firearms, have attempted to acquire a firearm while prohibited, or had their firearm returned following the expiration of a protective order, and provide appropriate services to facilitate victim safety.

Congress and state legislatures should require background checks on all gun sales and ensure that prohibited domestic abusers and stalkers cannot evade background checks by purchasing guns from unlicensed, private sellers.

Since the introduction of the FBI’s NICS in 1998, nearly 400,000 firearm sales to domestic abusers have been blocked.

Requiring a background check for every gun sale is key to enforcing gun laws and is an effective tool for keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other people with dangerous histories. Since the introduction of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 1998, nearly 400,000 firearm sales to domestic abusers have been blocked. Every year, one in nine prohibited purchasers denied by a background check are domestic abusers.United 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 2012-2015. Local-level denials were available and included only for the years 2012 and 2014-2015 from the BJS reports. Data for the years 2011 and 2016-2017 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 gun sales by licensed dealers. While 21 states and Washington, DC, go further and require background checks on all handgun sales,CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IA, IL, OR, MA, MD, MI, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, PA, RI, VT, and WA. Sixteen of these states requires background checks on all firearm sales. in states that do not require checks for private sales, domestic abusers and convicted stalkers can circumvent the background check system by purchasing firearms from private sellers online or at a gun show.Ten states require a point-of-sale check for sales by unlicensed handgun sellers (CA, CO, DE, NM, NV, NC, OR, PA, VT, and WA), seven states require a background check on those sales pursuant to a purchase permit (HI, IA, IL, MA, MI, NE, and RI), and four states and DC require a background check at both occasions (CT, DC, MD, NJ, and NY).

Congress and state legislatures should close the Charleston loophole that puts victims of domestic abuse at heightened risk.

From 2006 to 2015, 30 percent of gun sale denials from licensed dealers by buyers convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse took longer than three business days.

Federal law requires that licensed gun dealers run background checks on all potential gun buyers. But due to a National Rifle Association-backed provision added to the 1993 Brady Bill, the law allows sales to proceed by default after three business days—even if background check operators have not confirmed that the buyer is legally allowed to have guns.This 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 from licensed dealers by buyers convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse took longer than three business days.United 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. https://bit.ly/2CkTs94. July 2016. 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.Ibid. Many of these guns do make it into the hands of prohibited domestic abusers. 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 Report - 2017. https://bit.ly/2Hu9H7j. This is likely to be an undercount since it is based on solely on background checks conducted by the FBI and does not include data from Point-of-Contact states that conduct their own background checks. Nineteen states and Washington, DC, have laws that give authorities longer than three business days to complete a background check on potential gun buyers.CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, HI, IL, MD, MA, MN, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, TN, UT, WA, and WI. Congress and state legislatures should prohibit a firearm transfer until the results of a NICS background check indicate that the person attempting to buy the firearm is not prohibited from possessing guns.

Congress and state legislatures should require notification of state or local law enforcement when a domestic abuser or convicted stalker attempts to buy a gun and fails a background check.

Current federal law does not require federal authorities to notify state or local authorities when a prohibited person attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by NICS—even though the attempted purchase is a crime. Nine states have laws requiring notification when a prohibited person attempts to buy a gun and fails a background check.CA, CO, HI, IL, LA, OR, TN (DV orders and mental health), UT, and WA. The fact that a prohibited abuser attempts to buy a firearm may indicate that people they have abused are in danger. Legislatures should pass laws requiring the entities that run background checks to notify law enforcement when a person fails a background check. Federal and state law enforcement agencies and prosecutors should also dedicate resources to investigate and prosecute abusers who falsely state that they are not prohibited from possessing firearms when they attempt to purchase guns.

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.United 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. https://bit.ly/2CkTs94. July 2016. When a prohibited abuser tries to buy a gun and undergoes a NICS check, the sale will be stopped only if his 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. 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.Misdemeanor 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. 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 a default proceed sale to a prohibited domestic abuser due to the Charleston loophole.

Congress should explicitly support and fund more comprehensive research on intimate partner homicides and require updates to national crime surveys and reporting systems that include victim/perpetrator data on underrepresented populations.

Since 1996, a budget restriction known as the Dickey Amendment has dramatically curtailed the ability of the CDC to conduct firearms research and has prevented the agency from spending funds to “advocate or promote gun control.”Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, Public Law 104-208 (1996). As a result, the CDC collects limited data on gun violence, and the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) does not yet cover all 50 states.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Violent Death Reporting System: the reach of the NVDRS. https://bit.ly/2EQQidH. In addition to expanding the NVDRS to all 50 states, Congress should commission the expansion of the CDC’s reporting on homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence so that it captures victims and perpetrators’ disability status and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), in addition to race and ethnicity.Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United States, 2003-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017; 66(28): 741–746. The report should be expanded to include data from all 50 states, as well as additional demographic indicators for victims and perpetrators: SOGI and disability. Similarly, Congress should update national crime reporting surveys to complement these recommendations for the CDC’s public health surveillance data of firearm deaths and injuries. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports (UCR-SHR) should be updated to include SOGI and disability of victims and perpetrators. Currently, disability and SOGI are missing demographic indicators across both CDC and FBI data collection on gun homicides,Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability datasets: population surveys that include the standard disability questions. https://bit.ly/2OYwLjs and there are critical gaps in our national estimates of the extent of firearm violence impacting LGBTQ and disabled victims of domestic abuse.


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.