By Chelsea Parsons
Director, Crime and Firearms Policy, Center for American Progress
The issue of domestic violence has received a lot of attention in recent weeks, in large part due to the Ray Rice case. Millions of Americans saw the graphic video depicting the type of violence against an intimate partner that usually occurs only behind closed doors. That case has brought home to many across the country a fact that domestic violence prevention advocates confront every day: domestic violence remains prevalent in the United States. While violent crime in this country has steadily declined over the past two decades, a significant proportion of the violence that remains occurs in the context of domestic or intimate partner violence, a burden that overwhelmingly falls on women. Although women are murdered less frequently than men, they are much more likely to be killed by domestic or intimate partners than men are. From 2001 to 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the U.S. by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
When domestic violence turns fatal, it is often due to the presence of a gun. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Of all the women killed by intimate partners from 2001 to 2012, 55 percent were killed with guns. Five women are murdered with a gun in the U.S. every day.
These numbers are unacceptable but they are not inevitable. There is much more that can be done to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous domestic abusers and prevent the deaths of thousands of women across the country every year. Lawmakers need to act to strengthen the laws in four ways to better protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence. First, they should bar all convicted abusers, stalkers, and those subject to restraining orders from possessing guns. They should also provide all records of prohibited abusers to the federal background check system. They should require a background check for all gun sales. And finally, they must ensure abusers surrender any firearms they own once they become barred from gun possession.
There has been a growing movement around the country to enact stronger laws to prevent domestic abusers and stalkers from having access to guns. Legislation to this effect passed in a number of states this year and bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to strengthen the federal law. This week, the Center for American Progress and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released detailed information about the scope of fatal domestic violence in all 50 states and the large role access to guns plays in that violence. We should take advantage of the increased attention and growing momentum on this issue to continue to press our lawmakers to close gaps in the law and ensure dangerous domestic abusers cannot continue to threaten women with guns.
Chelsea Parsons is Director of Crime and Firearms Policy at American Progress. Her work focuses on advocating for progressive laws and policies relating to guns and the criminal justice system at the federal, state, and local levels. Prior to joining American Progress, she was general counsel to the New York City criminal justice coordinator, a role in which she helped develop and implement criminal justice initiatives and legislation in areas including human trafficking, sexual assault and family violence, firearms, identity theft, indigent defense, and justice system improvements. She previously served as an assistant New York state attorney general and a staff attorney law clerk for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Brooklyn Law School.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.