Intimate Partner Violence and Guns: A Deadly Combination

By Kaeley McEvoy 6-04-2015
Image via Burlingham/shutterstock.com
Image via Burlingham/shutterstock.com

The other day I sat in a Congressional hearing room and burst into tears.

Why?

Stories. Stories of women who had been shot by their intimate partners. Women who had been stalked and threatened with a gun. Women who were so afraid for their lives that they wrote letters to their children just in case their partner shot them. 

June 2 was National Gun Violence Awareness day. Since December 2013, when 20 children and 6 teachers were shot in Newtown, Conn., 15 minutes away from my hometown, I have been very aware of gun violence.

But sitting in a room surrounded by survivors, advocates, and Congressional representatives, the feeling of gun violence awareness became tangible. Within the four walls of the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room, a room named for a victim of gun violence, the pain was chillingly palpable.

The link between intimate partner violence and gun violence was made clear: The cycle of women shot by their intimate partner is an epidemic that needs to be stopped.

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun. That is more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.

Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Of all the women killed by intimate partners during 2001-2012, 55 percent were killed with guns.

Statistics are shocking but what impacted me were the stories.

Survivors Lisette Johnson and Ruth Glenn told stories of how they were shot by their intimate partners.

Lisette explained how her abusive husband shot her several times with a handgun at close range in their master bedroom before putting the gun to his head and taking his own life. On hearing the first shot, Lisette’s 12-year-old daughter told her 9-year-old brother to get out of the house and then headed toward her parents’ bedroom, where she witnessed her father shooting her mother before turning the gun on himself.

Ruth shared that her former husband “used guns to enforce power and fear into her son and herself.” When Ruth filed a restraining order her husband called her saying, “a piece of paper won’t do anything to stop a bullet.”

Ruth explained that law enforcement had taken away her partner’s guns before, but he always purchased more from a private dealer or gun show. Ruth was shot three times and left for dead in her home.

Ruth and Lisette both consider themselves lucky; they survived their abuse. Most victims of abuse are not so lucky.

In the United States, a woman is murdered with a gun every five hours.

Violence against women looks different from violence against men; violence against women is more likely to be personal. Between 2003 and 2012, 65 percent of female violent crime victims were targeted by someone they knew. Only 34 percent of male violent crime victims knew their attackers.

Imagine living with the fear that the people most likely to harm you are people you know. In most cases, this fear isn’t limited to just physical harm but actual death. Ruth Glenn reported that two-thirds of callers who contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline believe that their abusers have the capacity to kill them.

If the abuser owns a firearm, women are five times more likely to be killed.

There must be stricter policy reforms to plug loopholes that allow convicted stalkers and domestic abusers to purchase guns.

There were stories of women whose abusers slept with guns under their pillows to prevent women from leaving during the night. There were stories of children who watched their fathers shoot their mothers in the family home. These stories were full of pain and hurt caused by people who should not have had access to a gun in the first place.

How many more women will need to tell their stories of abuse until national action is taken to#ProtectAllWomen? How many more children will be traumatized by witnessing their mothers shot in front of their eyes?

How many more women will be shot by their partner?

 Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

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