The tragedy in Orlando has us all concerned about what can happen when guns get into the hands of violent people. Unfortunately, American women are far more likely to come face to face with someone like that in their own home. Here with what you need to about guns, violence against women and what you can do to protect yourself and women you care about is Shari O.
As women, when we think about the types of situations in which we might come face to face with a violent guy with a gun, we typically envision a dark parking lot or alley somewhere. But the fact is, 93% of women who are murdered are murdered by someone they know. And two-thirds of women murdered by guns are murdered by their husbands or intimate partners, not by strangers in dark alleys. A domestic abuser’s access to firearms alone translates to him being five times more likely to murder his wife or girlfriend. Domestic gun violence kills over four women every single day! In fact, 70% of mass shootings happen inside American homes, not in public.
But when it does come to public shootings like the one in Orlando, the best predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior. Wives and children of domestic abusers are sometimes only the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” In a sense, these guys are practicing their violence at home. It turns out that many of the mass murders we’ve seen over the past few years were domestic abusers. And in all cases, monitoring the access these men have to guns is, arguably, part of the solution.
There are connections between the Orlando murders and domestics gun violence on several levels. Perhaps the biggest similarity is that there have been some laws passed to keep domestic abusers from accessing guns to kill their wives and girlfriends, but there are still loopholes and the resistance to closing them is very similar to the resistance we’re hearing for not keeping assault weapons away from mass murderers, mainly that the Second Amendment grants every American the right to a gun and the only way we can limit that is if we know for sure that a person is buying that gun to use it to commit murder. The problem, obviously, is there’s no way to know that for certain until after the fact.
For example, on the Federal level, the Violence Against Women Act and Protective Order Gun Ban passed in 1994 prohibits anyone with a restraining order for domestic violence from possessing a gun. And the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, aka the Lautenberg Amendment, of 1996 bans access to guns and ammunition by anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, child abuse, or under a restraining order for domestic, as well as knowingly selling or giving a gun or ammunition to these guys. The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act 2005 aka VAWA required states and local governments, as a condition of certain funding, to certify that their judicial administrative polices include notifying domestic violence offenders of federal firearms prohibitions and any related applicable federal, state, or local law.
On the state level, some states prohibit anyone who’s committed a domestic violence misdemeanor or is subject to a protective order from buying a gun. A few require them to surrender their existing guns or authorize or require the court to require surrender. And some allow or require law enforcement responding to an incident to remove guns from a home.
Like the challenges we’re now facing with trying to stop more mass shootings, the problems with guns and domestic violence lie in a few key areas:
- First, we can’t possibly know for sure that a gun will be used to kill someone in advance. Many domestic violence laws only apply after a court gets involved and issues a restraining order, for example. Yet the greatest danger for violent retaliation is right after a first temporary restraining order is sought.
- Second, certain terms are very narrowly defined, such as what constitutes domestic violence or who constitutes a victim. Non-married partners who don’t live together, for example, may not be protected. And there are virtually no laws to help other family members stop a killer. We’ve seen situations where family members know there’s a problem, but even if its reported, our laws don’t give them any way to do something about it. Take for example, the Santa Barbara shooter in 2014. His mom knew he was deeply troubled and called authorities. They went to the house and the guns he eventually used in a mass murder were right there. But unless someone has committed a crime or can be involuntarily committed to a mental institution, there’s not much the laws allow you to do.
- Last, the devil is in the details, many of which are not addressed by the laws. Studies show that when states ban abusers with restraining orders from buying new guns, domestic murders with guns drop by 25%. But, when abusers are able to keep the guns they already own, we don’t see these same results. Moreover, states vary in the duration for removal of firearms with some only doing it for a few days. And not all states facilitate gun purchase prohibitions or existing gun seizures by reporting to a central database.
One in four women experience domestic violence at some point. If someone you know is in this situation, remember there are all sorts of reasons she’s going to be hesitant to talk about it, no less do something about it. She may be overwhelmed by fear or the unknown, believe it’s her fault and if she changes the abuse will stop, love her partner even if she hates the violence, hope his good side will reappear, depend on him, or feel shame, guilt or embarrassment. She may not want a very private situation to become public, and doing so may actually put her in more danger.
If you want to start a conversation, do so when the situation is clam and try to offer support, without judgement or criticism, and to respect her decisions. Assuring her that your conversations are confidential and using statements such as “it’s not your fault,” “I know this is difficult to talk about,” “You’re not alone” “You’re not responsible for his behavior” may help. Once the conversation is started, all you can really do until she wants to take action is to continue checking in regularly.
If you’re the one in a domestic violence situation, there are some things you can do, even if you’re not ready to leave. For example, make sure your kids know they are to protect themselves not you, have a safe place for them to go when needed (like a neighbor’s), show them how to call 911 and have a code word so they know when to leave or call for help. Share your safety word with a trusted friend so they know when to come by and ring the doorbell or call the police. Keep emergency telephone numbers on speed dial and download one of the good safety apps that are now available. During heated moments keep away from the kitchen or anyplace with potentially dangerous objects. If you do have guns in the house, try to keep them separate from the ammunition and under lock and key. If you decide to get out, document the abuse so you can get a protective order and carry it with you at all times, learn your legal rights and options, and inform you employer and your kid’s school about the situation so they can take appropriate precautions.