Last week, Personhood Ohio, a pro-life organization, decided to fundraise by selling a large collection of assault weapons. While saving the preborn by selling automatic rifles had many a feminist frightened, this is not the first time women’s rights and gun control have crossed paths. Indeed, the hotly debated topic of gun control is in itself a feminist issue, putting more women in danger with every day we fail to act on the issue.
Gender issues are inherent to the control debate because of the strong link between guns, domestic violence, and domestic violence fatalities. A survey released earlier this week by the Pew Research Center found that over 6 in 10 American gun owners are white men. Overall, 74% of gun owners are male and 82% are white. In 2006, a Gallup poll reported that more men than women felt safer with a gun in the home, with 56% of men and only 39% of women reporting to feel more safe with a gun in the home. This disparity begs the question: who exactly do they feel safe or unsafe from?
Of course, both gun control and women’s rights have been two of the most hotly debated issues in discourse today. The recent gun control legislation, which stopped abruptly in the Senate back in April, was both refuted and supported by women’s advocacy groups. There are some women who have advocated for less gun control in the name of protecting women to sexual assault and domestic violence by arming them with guns. However, aside from the fact that extensive background checks do not impede women’s rights from purchasing a weapon and using it for defense, possessing a gun can actually increase the likelihood that the gun owner assumes others are armed, often leading to deadly miscommunications. According to an article in the Guardian, numerous psychological studies and crime reports have concluded that “arming a good guy” with a gun to stop a “bad guy” with a gun actually increases the chance of fatalities.
Domestic violence is all too common in the United States. According to the Domestic Violence Research Center, 25% of women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Of course, the fact that every one in four women have encountered domestic violence only accounts for the women who have reported these incidents, and actual rates may even be higher. When a gun is involved or even nearby, domestic disputes often turn deadly. On average, more than three women a day are killed by husbands or boyfriends in the United States.
Research by renowned national expert, Dr. Jacqueline Campbell, demonstrates that access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide more than five times compared to instances where there are no weapons. According to Karen Jarmoc, Executive Director, CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "In 2010, of all of the women killed by a firearm in the United States, almost two-thirds of them were killed by an intimate partner."
In 2010, research conducted at Johns Hopkins University surveyed 408 murder-suicide cases and found that 91% were men and that a gun was involved in 88% of cases. With their findings, researchers concluded that these types of crimes are more likely to occur in a country where firearms are more readily available. Therefore, strict protection of the Second Amendment actually increases the likelihood that domestic violence victims become murder victims as well.
According to Chief Kevin Hale of the Ansonia Police Department, "It is clear that gun violence, or the threat of gun violence, is a huge factor in the continued effort to combat domestic violence throughout our cities and towns," and that "the only way to truly overcome this threat is to make sure that abusers have zero access to firearms, period. This issue must be a major part of any official conversation on gun control."
While the majority of the American population agree that guns should not be given to the mentally or criminally insane, what about those who have a record of sexual abuse? According to statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), two thirds of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. In other words, these crimes are often committed by people women trust, not those who are clearly “insane” and often unassuming.
Extending background checks to guarantee that those with a record of sexual abuse or violence are not allowed to own a gun would help mitigate the number of homicides that result after or during violent sex crimes, Using a gun as an intimidation tactic is an equally disturbing issue that is seldom discussed in the gun control debate. Even when a violent crime does not end in a homicide, it is inevitable that someone would be more likely to submit to a demand when a gun is being pointed at his or her head.
Like many Americans, I have recently wondered how many more schoolchildren or innocent bystanders must be killed before we seriously reevaluate our gun control policies. With so many horrifying public shootings taking place every other week, and those victims barely being afforded a voice in Congress, is there even a chance for those who silently suffer from gun violence behind closed doors? How many more women must die at the hands of their intimate partners before Congress takes gun control seriously? In order to stop the cycle, we must directly address the gender issues embedded in the gun control debate. Feminist and gun control organizations alike must acknowledge how intertwined their struggles are, and move forward together.