October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but most people are in fact unaware. One reason is that Republicans in Congress usually fritter away most of the month by closing the government (or trying to) and creating a manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling.
But the statistics on domestic violence and guns ought to get our attention. If October is like every other month, nearly 50 women in the U.S. will be murdered with a gun by an intimate partner — overwhelmingly a husband or boyfriend. We’ve had so many mass shootings in places like Oregon, Charleston, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, and the Navy Yard that it would be easy to conclude gun violence knows no gender. But that’s not quite true.
Women are over three-and-a-half times more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. And a gun in a household with a history of domestic violence increases that risk by twenty fold. Stalkers also use guns to harm their victims — and you guessed it — more than 75 percent of those victims are female.
A few common sense changes in the law would make women safer. For starters, we need to close the loopholes on background checks for gun ownership. Right now, if you want a gun without submitting to a background check, just pick one up at a gun show or online. No problem — no questions asked.
True, it’s against the law for people convicted of domestic violence or subject to restraining orders to buy a gun. But even that paltry prohibition doesn’t cover dating partners — federal law only protects women victimized by spouses or co-parents. And if someone already owns a gun when convicted, they don’t necessarily have to surrender it. A lot of the time they get to keep it to use another day.
Stalkers are usually home free too, even if convicted. Only seven states bar them from buying or owning guns. There’s no federal ban at all, despite the often increasingly violent nature of their behavior.
There have been bills offered in Congress, like the Manchin-Toomey amendment to the “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013” (S 649), which would require background checks for private-party gun sales in commercial settings, including at gun shows and on the internet.
Manchin-Toomey was supported by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and a host of other groups. Strong support, but with the never-ending posturing over Obamacare and the continuing wrangle over the budget, it didn’t see the light of day, and my bet is it won’t in the future. And if it does, it’s anybody’s guess whether there’s enough political will to pass it. Even some members who voted to pass the Violence Against Women Act, like Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Max Baucus (D-Mt), Mark Begich (D-AK) are not supporting this common sense legislation.
Before Domestic Violence Awareness Month is over, at least 20 more women, and some of their kids, will be fatally shot by abusers.
Cause of death: lack of action in Congress.
Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.