MASS SHOOTINGS make news, and they linger in our collective memory. However, less-public incidents — the ones that happen at home — claim more lives, argues American University professor Rachel Louise Snyder in her new book, “No Visible Bruises.” In an average month in the United States alone, more than 50 women are fatally shot by an intimate partner, she writes. This is a harrowing statistic that we need to face.
There is overlap in the deadly shooting categories. Between 2009 and 2017, more than half of mass shootings (shootings in which four or more individuals were killed) were cases of domestic or familial violence, according to a report by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Feminist activist Gloria Steinem told the Associated Press that more women have been killed by their intimate partners since 9/11 than “all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq” combined. This level of what is sometimes called “intimate terrorism” should be unacceptable.
As with the mass shootings that make headlines, an inescapable factor in the carnage of domestic violence is the absence of reasonable gun laws. After decades of decline, fatal intimate partner abuse rose from 2015 to 2017, according to a study by James Alan Fox and Emma Fridel of Northeastern University. Moreover, abuse by gun does not have to be fatal to cause harm: Approximately 4.5 million American women have been threatened and controlled with a gun by an intimate partner, according to research.
Local, state and federal officials need to close gaps in the legal system that grant firearm possession to too many who should not be eligible. Background checks for gun sales must be more thorough. Individuals who have been convicted of domestic violence should be required to surrender their firearms and prohibited from purchasing any more. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only 29 states and the District have laws that ban those convicted of domestic violence from buying guns. Even fewer demand firearm surrender upon conviction.
The laws also contain too many loopholes in the classifications of abuse. Some state laws ban gun ownership in certain circumstances but exempt people with temporary restraining orders as a result of suspected abuse, those convicted of stalking misdemeanors or people convicted of abusing a dating partner they are not married to. Given that access to a firearm makes what is already a dangerous situation of domestic abuse five times more likely to be fatal, this is unacceptable.
Gun law reform alone won’t solve this problem, of course. Social services must give victims more accessible support. There needs to be earlier intervention in cases of suspected abuse, protecting victims from escalating violence. Courts must increase enforcement of restraining orders. But keeping guns out of the wrong hands is essential. Lives are at stake.