As a mother, I can think of few situations more scary then having a child experience a school shooting. Unfortunately, too many mothers have experienced that horror. Indeed, too many sisters, aunts, daughters, and wives have lost a loved one to gun violence. I have experienced the loss of a friend to gun violence and know someone who was assaulted with a gun by an abusive husband.
I used to think that gun violence was not that prevalent. However, the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio remind us of the horrors of gun violence and the failure of legislatures to enact meaningful gun restrictions. Indeed, despite having experienced over 300 mass shootings since the beginning of the year, no federal legislation and few state laws have been enacted to reduce gun violence. As the media and politicians have debated assault weapon bans and red flag laws, the conversation has missed the devastating toll gun violence has on women and the strong correlation between gun violence and domestic violence.
Research has shown that over 50% of mass shootings were related to domestic violence. Women are five times more likely to be murdered by a domestic abuser if there’s a gun at home. Women are twenty-one times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other developed nations.
There are many examples of perpetrators of mass shootings having a history of domestic violence. The shooter who perpetrated the shooting at the Annapolis Capital Gazette was known to have threatened a former female classmate. The Marjory Stoneham Douglas shooter was abusive to his ex-girlfriend, and threatened and stalked female classmates. The shooter at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas had been convicted of domestic violence against his wife.
Given these statistics, the solution seems deceptively simple – just prohibit the possession of guns by someone convicted of domestic violence. Since 2001, federal law, under the Lautenberg Amendment, has prohibited convicted individuals from possessing guns. However, significant loopholes to gun ownership by domestic abusers exist.
For example, while federal law prohibits perpetrators convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns, thirty-six states lack confiscation policies. In other words, nothing prevents convicted offenders from using guns already in their possession.
Federal law also does not apply to abusive dating partners or convicted stalkers. Women are as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses. In an average month, at least 52 American women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and many more are injured. Nearly 1 million women in the country alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner. Moreover, 85 percent of attempted homicides of women were preceded by a stalking incident by the perpetrator.
In addition, background check requirements do not apply to gun purchases from unlicensed, private sellers. From January 2009 to December 2016, 34% of mass shootings were committed by shooters prohibited from owning guns. Background checks should be required for all purchases, including gun shows and private sellers, to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators and others prohibited persons.
As Lawyers Club advocates for laws to better the lives of women in society, common sense gun restrictions are necessary not only to prevent mass shootings but to prevent violence against women in general. Enacting protective gun measures will not only help keep our communities safer but also our homes.
-Article first published in LC News, November 2019
Elvira Cortez practices business and commercial litigation and employment defense at Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP and is the 2019-2020 president of Lawyers Club.