5 Things You Should Know About Domestic Violence and Firearms
Lisa Geller, MPH
State Affairs Manager
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
Gun violence and domestic violence are intertwined public health epidemics. In 2020, the most recent year of CDC data available, there were over 45,000 gun deaths in the United States – 124 gun deaths every single day.1,2 We also know that nearly one in four women and one in seven men will experience severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.3 Research suggests that both crises are exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.4,5 Understanding what domestic violence and gun violence look like in the US, and how to prevent both, can help put clinicians in a position to support their patients.
1. Half of all women killed in the US are killed by a current or former partner.6
While both men and women can and do experience intimate partner violence, most victims of lethal domestic violence are women. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are disproportionately impacted by homicide and intimate partner homicide.7 Regardless of race, most femicide victims in the US are killed by someone they know, and often that perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner.8 As such, there are many opportunities for intervention and prevention before a homicide occurs.
2. Half of intimate partner homicides are by firearm.9
Women in abusive relationships are five times more likely to be murdered when their partner has access to a gun.10 Given the lethality of a firearm, when they are used to inflict harm in an abusive relationship there is an increased risk that the harm will be lethal.
3. Research shows that around 4.5 million women in the US have been threatened or intimidated with a gun, and nearly 1 million women have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.11
Domestic violence is about asserting power and control over an individual.12 Firearms have the power to inflict enormous psychological damage, even when they are not discharged. Survivors of domestic violence who have been previously threatened with a weapon are at an increased risk of intimate partner homicide.10
4. The majority of mass shootings in the US are related to domestic violence, and domestic violence mass shootings have a higher case fatality rate than those unrelated to domestic violence.13
Though mass shootings are rare events, they attract a lot of the media attention surrounding gun violence. Data show that in nearly 70% of mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot and killed) between 2014-2019, the perpetrator either killed an intimate partner or family member or had a known history of domestic violence.13 Further, the study found that the case fatality rate for domestic violence mass shootings was nearly 84%, compared to 63% for non-domestic violence mass shootings. Put another way, only 16% of victims of domestic violence-related mass shootings survived compared to 37% of victims of non-domestic violence mass shootings. Research also shows that there are many gaps in the criminal legal system, including poorly implemented laws, that allow would-be mass shooters with a history of domestic violence to fall through the cracks and access guns.14
5. Policies exist to prevent domestic violence injuries and deaths – such as Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs), but these laws are only effective with proper implementation and clear firearm removal processes.
Clinicians may be in a unique role to address domestic violence and gun violence with their patients by being informed about, and informing their patients of, policy remedies available to protect them. ERPOs and DVPOs are two of these policies. While DVPOs offer many forms of protections for victims of domestic violence, including stay away or no contact orders, ERPOs are solely focused on temporary firearm removal. ERPOs are civil orders designed to temporarily remove firearms from an individual at risk of suicide or interpersonal violence.15 In three states – Hawaii, Maryland, and the District of Columbia – healthcare providers can petition for extreme risk protection orders.
To learn more about this topic, watch the BulletPoints webinar episode on “Domestic Violence and Firearms” with Lisa Geller.
Clinical tools for preventing firearm injury
Click to view references
- EFSGV Analysis of 2020 CDC Data.
- Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) [online].
- The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report.
- COVID-19, Intimate Partner Violence, and Communication Ecologies. American Behavioral Scientist.
- U.S. Gun Violence Rates Jumped 30% During Pandemic HealthDay News.
- The domestic violence fatality review clearinghouse: introduction to a new National Data System with a focus on firearms. Injury Epidemiology.
- Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence — United States, 2003–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
- When Men Murder Women.
- Multiple Victim Homicides, Mass Murders, and Homicide- Suicides as Domestic Violence Events Battered Women's Justice Project.
- Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health.
- Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Trauma, Violence & Abuse.
- Power and Control.
- The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014-2019. Injury Epidemiology.
- Potential to prevent mass shootings through domestic violence firearm restrictions Criminology and Public Policy.
- Extreme Risk Laws.