THE INTERSECTION OF FIREARMS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Violence against intimate partners and family members is a public health crisis, and, given the accessibility and availability of guns in America, this violence is often perpetrated with a firearm. Firearms can be used to intimidate, control, coerce, threaten, injure, and kill intimate partners. Indeed, the presence of a firearm in the home increases the likelihood that domestic violence (DV) will escalate into a homicide by fivefold.4 Over one-third of American women have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime — more than 40 million people.5 More than 20% of American women have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.6 While most survive these traumatic events, far too many do not.
Nearly half of all women killed in the U.S. are murdered by a current or former intimate partner.7 According to the FBI, over 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner every month in the United States.8 Intimate partner homicides (IPH) disproportionately affect women. Studies show that nearly 78% of IPH victims are women, 98% of whom are killed by male partners. 9, 10 Firearms are used in over half of the murders of women by an intimate partner. 11 American women are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other high-income countries, and nearly 92% of all women killed by guns in high-income countries were American women. 12
Data Reporting Issues
States do not use standardized definitions of intimate partner and domestic violence (DV) homicide and are not required to report these statistics to the federal government, resulting in both statistics that are unable to be compared across states and incomplete data. However, an analysis of the 2013 FBI Supplemental Homicide Reports found that approximately 1,270 IPH were recorded in the FBI’s database.13
The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides a more accurate estimate of how many individuals are killed by an intimate partner in any given year by calculating how many unsolved cases reported to the FBI were likely intimate partner homicides. In 2007, they estimated that 2,340 homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner, of whom 1,640 were female victims and 700 were male.14
Although these findings undercount the true number of IPH each year and do not include DV homicides perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner, they do highlight the disturbing public health crisis this nation faces each day.
In addition to being used to kill, firearms are often used to threaten and intimidate an intimate partner. Data shows that there are about 4.5 million women in America who have been threatened with a gun, and nearly 1 million women who have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.15 Even when a firearm is not discharged, abusers often use the mere presence of a gun to coerce, threaten, and terrorize their victims, inflicting enormous psychological damage.16 A 2014 survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that “abusers invoke the mere presence of a firearm to control and terrorize their victims” and will threaten to use such firearm “to hurt the victim, their children, other family members, friends, household pets or to commit suicide.”17 Abusers’ previous threats with a weapon and threats to kill their partners are both predictors of intimate partner homicide.18