The domestic abusers lobby

The right of an abuser to own a gun trumps the right of a victim to walk away with her life, argues Filipovic.

Gun shop in wake of Connecticut school shooting
When an abuser has access to firearms, his victim is eight times more likely to be killed by him [EPA]

The National Rifle Association’s guns-at-all-costs mentality and total disregard for public safety has already put it in the uncomfortable position of opposing the most basic laws to protect the public safety. It opposes the regulations that would help stop disturbed young men from going on shooting sprees in schools with weapons that are as easy to fire as video game controllers. It opposes the international Arms Trade Treaty, which according to the Washington Post “would require countries to determine whether weapons they sell would be used to commit serious human rights violations, terrorism or transnational organised crime”. It is willing to fight for the rights of drunk people in bars, visitors to elementary school and Sunday morning church-goers to carry weapons with them. 

The latest group to have their gun ownership rights championed by the NRA? Domestic abusers. 

Forty percent of women who are murdered in the US are killed by intimate partners. Guns are the cause of more than two-thirds of those domestic violence homicides, killing more victims than all other weapons combined. When an abuser has access to firearms, his victim is eight times more likely to be killed by him. The simple presence of a gun in the home makes any woman 2.7 times more likely to be murdered. And an abuse victim having access to a gun does not make her any less to be killed by her partner. 

Contrary to the NRA’s arguments about women and guns, guns do not protect women or keep us safe. They are used by abusers to kill us. Nonetheless, the NRA has fought back against legislation that mandates the removal of guns in domestic violence disputes. 

Apparently, the right of an abuser to own a gun trumps the right of a victim to walk away with her life.  

Gun-related crimes on rise

The most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is when she tries to leave her abuser – that is when he is most likely to fly off the handle and actually kill her. Understanding those facts, Congress amended the Gun Control Act in 1994 to make sure that anyone subject to a full domestic violence protective order would have to surrender their weapons (those subject to a temporary order of protection would not). Two years later, Congress again amended the act so that anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanour would be barred from owning weapons. That is logical – guns probably should not be in the hands of folks who have been found guilty of violent crimes. Some states followed suit and enacted similar common-sense legislation; some did not. 

Unfortunately, the federal law is seldom invoked, and so state law runs the show. 

Enter the NRA. 

The NRA has knocked down many of the laws and policies that prevent women from being killed by their abusers. A New York Times expose shows that in states like Washington, where the NRA has succeeded in removing laws that protect victims of violence, society suffers. Washington state no longer seizes guns when a domestic violence order of protection is granted. In that state, “The New York Times identified scores of gun-related crimes committed by people subject to recently issued civil protection orders, including murder, attempted murder and kidnapping.” At least five of the murder victims in the past decade were women who had taken out orders of protection less than a month earlier. 

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Contrast that to areas where domestic violence protective order surrender laws are in place and enforced, like San Mateo County in California: they have not had a firearms-related domestic violence murder in three years

Even if you accept that individual gun ownership is a constitutional right – a position that I think suggests you did not read the first half of the Second Amendment, but is currently the law of the land – all rights have limits. The right to free speech, for example, does not include the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre, or disseminate harmful and knowingly false information about a private citizen. Freedom and liberty are fundamental rights, but they can be curtailed by a court of law. The American justice system works in part by limiting particular freedoms and coercing certain actions – putting a convicted criminal in jail, ordering a deadbeat dad to pay child support, requiring that recently released convicts check in with parole officers, seizing assets that were acquired illegally or with dirty money. Removing firearms from people who have shown themselves to be physically violent toward their partners is entirely in step with the functions of our legal system. 

The NRA and its Republican representatives have made clear that women’s rights are not exactly on the top of their agenda – even a woman’s right to life is less important than an abuser’s right to a gun. The Republican party has a major misogyny problem, with few women in positions of power and political views that compromise women’s basic rights to our own bodies and deny us legal equality. The GOP is the party that opposed the Violence Against Women Act. The political right has sent a clear message that violence against women is not one of their concerns. 

Victims of domestic violence

But perhaps an appeal to men’s rights would help: domestic violence advocacy and feminist activism have saved enormous numbers of men’s lives. 

How? As Amanda Marcotte has argued, by giving abused women the ability to leave bad relationships instead of killing their husbands, and by securing state, federal and private funding to battle family violence regardless of the perpetrator’s gender. Between 1980 and 2008, the rate of intimate partner murder where a male victim was killed by a female intimate dropped by 53 percent. In the same period, the number of women killed by male intimates ticked up. Women remain significantly more likely than men to be killed or abused by an intimate partner, and so domestic violence resources are concentrated on female victims. But getting women out of abusive situations, and helping men who are abused, means fewer male deaths. 

It is time we made a better effort to lower the female homicide rate, too. Women are usually killed by an intimate, and they are overwhelmingly killed by an intimate wielding a gun. It is simply untrue that an abuser who wants to kill his partner will do so by any means necessary; if he does not have a gun as his means, an attack is far less likely to result in death. We know this to be true of most acts of violence. People are killed with hands, knives and other weapons. But, not to get too crass about it, those kinds of killings take time and effort, giving victims a better opportunity to escape, fight back or survive their injuries. It is far easier, quicker and deadlier to squeeze a trigger a few times. It is why we use guns in combat instead of ice picks – guns are highly efficient in killing people. 

The NRA believes that the right to gun ownership is fundamental. While I do not agree, I respect their rights to speech and advocacy. What I do not respect – what I find wholly appalling – is where they choose to direct their energy, their political power and their funds. 

Men accused of domestic violence deserve their day in court. But once a judge has issued an order of protection, or once they have been convicted of domestic violence, they do not deserve to walk out of court with a gun in their hand. And they certainly do not deserve an army of NRA acolytes behind them.

Jill Filipovic is a consultant, writer, speaker and recovering attorney. She assists fashion and lifestyle brands, legal organisations and law firms, international NGOs, non-profits and corporations in using new media to reach their business and strategic objectives. She holds a JD from NYU School of Law. 

Follow her on Twitter: @JillFilipovic