Guns and violence against women: summary of key challenges and solutions

Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis. Every day, more than 100 people are killed with a gun, more than 200 are injured non-fatally and more than 1,000 are threatened with a gun.1 There are many forms of armed violence, each affecting communities differently, and women in particular are particularly affected.

More than 11,000 women in the United States were killed with a gun between 2015 and 2019, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2 While men experience even higher rates of gun violence, women are often targets of violence because of their gender and are frequently victimized by people they know well. Every month, an average of 57 women are killed with a gun by an intimate partner.3

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The impact of gun violence against women goes beyond fatal encounters. A 2016 study found that nearly one million women alive at that time had been shot by an intimate partner, and 4.5 million women had been threatened with a gun.4 Guns have long been used as a tool of power and control to instill fear and inflict abuse on women – women of color, people from the LGBTQ community and women with disabilities being disproportionately affected.5

This summary examines five key challenges and solutions regarding guns and gender-based violence in the United States.

5 key challenges around guns and gender-based violence

  1. Weapons used in an intimate partner context: A significant portion of gun violence against women occurs in an intimate partner context, with a disproportionate impact on women of color. Guns are used in intimate partner violence more than any other weapon.6 According to FBI Homicide Supplementary Reports data, from 2010 to 2019, more than 50% of female homicides committed by an intimate partner involved the use of a
  2. Gender-based violence perpetrated by strangers and acquaintances: Gender-based violence by non-intimate partners, targeting women of color in particular, reveals the harmful consequences of easy access to firearms by misogynistic and racist individuals. In March 2021, a gunman entered three spas in and around Atlanta and fatally shot eight people.8 Seven of the victims were female and six were Asian women.9 Over the past year, the group Stop AAPI Hate has compiled 6,600 reported incidents of discrimination or violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.ten
  3. Transgender Women Targeted in Gun-Related Hate Crimes: Transgender women, particularly trans women of color, experience disproportionate effects from gun-related hate crimes. In 2021, at least 45 transgender or gender nonconforming people, most of whom were black or transgender women of color, were shot or killed by other violent means.11 Between 2017 and 2019, 74% of homicides of transgender people involved a firearm.12
  4. The harmful effects of COVID-19 on gun violence against women: Intersecting crises, including the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to spikes in gun violence against women. Early estimates found there was an 8% increase in reports of domestic violence in the months immediately following stay-at-home orders in early 2020.13 Simultaneously, the United States has seen record levels of gun sales, potentially putting those experiencing domestic violence at even greater risk.
  5. Political actors are blocking gun reform and promoting dangerous narratives: Lobbyists and gun manufacturers promote stereotypical gender narratives to promote widespread gun ownership despite empirical evidence that demonstrates just how dangerous guns really are. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of a death occurring by 400%, regardless of who owns the firearm.14

Effective Policy Solutions

  • Disarming domestic abusers: Close loopholes in legislation that allow dangerous people to have access to firearms.
  • Closing the gender pay gap: Fair and equitable pay enables survivors to leave an abusive relationship and support their families.
  • Address online hate speech: Misogynistic and racist individuals commune on online forums which lead to dangerous situations in real life.
  • Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with key improvements: Each new authorization creates an opportunity to improve protection for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence and harassment.

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