While gun violence affects everyone in this country, the mass shooting at a Texas church earlier this month drew a lot of attention to the fact that gun control is a women’s issue. The Texas shooter specifically had been court martialed by the Air Force for domestic abuse (and because of an internal error, was still able to buy a gun), but even beyond that, there’s a long-standing pattern of mass shooters having a history of violence against women.
When we talk about gun control, the issue is often framed around the Second Amendment, which gives Americans the right to carry arms, but far too often, the right to carry a gun means that a woman’s life is in danger. It’s about time we reframe the discussion around gun control and draw attention to the fact that at a federal and state level, the way we regulate firearms has nothing to do with liberty and everything to do with devaluing women’s lives.
The connection between gun violence and violence against women is maddeningly obvious.
But women are totally left out of the conversation, their fates left to the whims of gun-owning men. According to a survey done by Marie Claire and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 32 percent of women live in households with a gun, yet only 12 percent of those women are the owners of the firearm. Their research also found that only 15 percent of gun-owning women reported carrying it within the last month, as opposed to 23 percent of gun-owning men. According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of gun owners are male and 82 percent of them are white.
Which might be why the conversation about gun control is often being held by men, who, for whatever reason, never seem to understand the urgency of cracking down on who can own a gun and when. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 53 percent of women murdered in 2011 where killed by their intimate partners or a family member. When it comes to mass shootings, the data is no different. About 57 percent of mass shootings in 2009 and 2014 also involved the perpetrator killing an intimate partner or family member.
The numbers get more chilling as you dig into data about women and guns.
Like, the fact that one woman is shot by a former or current partner every 16 hours, according to The Trace. Or that a woman in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be shot than a woman with an intimate partner who doesn’t have a gun. Even more shocking is that in 35 states, there is no law that requires someone to give up their gun if they’ve been charged with domestic abuse. In states that do protect women (sort of) from violence, there are loopholes that only bar a man from owning a gun if the woman is his wife or they’ve live together.
The “boyfriend loophole,” as some call it, means that a guy you’re dating who beats you up can keep their guns. If you take out a temporary restraining order against someone, they don’t have to declare or offer up their firearms. This time period, according to The Trace, is also the most triggering. So that stalker you just took action against? Only 16 states require them to hand over their firearm while awaiting a decision from a court. Legislators don’t seem to find this news alarming enough to pass bills that force violent men to disarm. Mass shootings tend to stir up the conversation about gun control, but women are killed by guns every single day.
Of course, violent criminals can also get a gun without a background check at a gun show or other private sale. All over, we’re failing women by letting violent men slide through the cracks. The gun control debate often boils down to a fight about “taking guns away” from “good guys.” But what if we just made sure that people who have a history of violence and anger management don’t get to pull a trigger? Why is it so hard for some people to see that our laws enable predators to own and carry lethal weapons that they often use against women? It’s not that guns kill people or people kill people — our laws enable (and at times embolden) violent men to kill women.
Maybe this is because most gun owners are men and that our culture goes way too easy on the kind of toxic masculinity that, at best, encourages victim blaming when it comes to any violence against women. Some states don’t even categorize domestic battery as a “violent crime.” It’s great to suggest a bill that bars perpetrators of domestic violence from buying a gun, but first we have to make sure we’re properly defining what that means.
To crack down on gun violence, we have to start taking domestic abuse seriously.
It’s also a practical way to reframe the conversation around gun control, which might sound cynical, but it’s true. Many members of Congress take loads of money from the National Rifle Association, which loses its sh*t anytime someone suggests regulating gun sales more. But if we can’t all agree that a guy who fractures his son’s skull and assaults his wife, like the Texas shooter did, shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to have a constructive conversation about common sense gun laws at all. The numbers show that these aren’t random, isolated incidents. Remember: a woman dies every 16 hours at the hands of the guy she’s in a relationship with.
Gun control is a women’s issue, and it’s time to start demanding our representatives treat it like one. The first place to start is cracking down on domestic violence — or at least acknowledging that it’s more prolific and dangerous than the ways our current laws suggest.