- In the United States in 2016, 5,664 female firearm deaths were recorded – 3,291 suicides and 2,202 homicides. (The remainder were undetermined, unintentional, or legal intervention.)
- Access to firearms increases the risk of being a homicide victim more for women than men.
- The increased homicide risk for women is largely a product of intimate partner homicides.
- A gun in the home quintuples the risk of domestic violence turning lethal.
- A gun in the home increases the severity of nonfatal domestic violence.
- Domestic violence restraining orders that temporarily prohibit gun ownership by the aggressor significantly reduce overall intimate partner homicide.
A 2014 meta-analysis of 16 studies on firearm availability and suicide or homicide determined that women with access to firearms become homicide victims at significantly higher rates than men.
Additionally, women are also more likely to be killed by their domestic partners than by strangers, acquaintances, or any other group.
In 2014, among non-stranger homicides, 49% of female victims and 6% of male victims were killed by their intimate partners by all means. Of these female intimate partner homicides, 57% were committed with firearms.
A 2016 study found that a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s firearm ownership rate increases the female non-stranger firearm homicide rate by 10.2%, and the overall female homicide rate by 7.3%.
Further, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases fivefold in relationships where violent partners have access to a gun.
Firearms are also routinely used in nonfatal domestic violence.
While firearms are sometimes touted as “the great equalizer” and a way for women to prevent abuse, gun threats in the home against women by their intimate partners are much more prevalent than self-defense uses by women across the United States.
In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health of 417 women in 67 domestic violence shelters, 37% of these women reported that their intimate partner’s used firearms to intimidate or harass them.
In 71.4% of these cases, domestic partners used their gun to threaten to kill the victim.
Not only is non-fatal abuse more common in households with guns, the presence of a gun increases the severity of nonfatal abuse. Using a graduated scale of severity, another study found consistent evidence that access to firearms increases the severity of abuse.
The picture grows bleaker when evaluated in an international context. Although U.S. women are a third of the developed world’s female population, they accounted for 90% of all female firearm deaths in 2010, and increase from 84% in 1999.
Three separate studies, utilizing decades of data, have found a significant decrease in the rate of intimate partner homicides in states that implemented laws prohibiting individuals with restraining orders from owning a gun. The consistency of these findings challenges the notion that would-be offenders will simply choose another weapon to commit their crimes if they cannot access a gun. The fact that total intimate partner homicide was reduced by 7% when these prohibitions were implemented refutes this hypothesis.
Another set of studies examining the effect of restricting individuals with violent misdemeanors from owning guns had mixed results. A recent paper evaluating the effect of a federal firearm prohibition against those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence showed that the federal law significantly decreased female intimate partner homicides by 11% and reduced violence against male domestic children by 31%. However, three other studies have examined the impact of state prohibitions against violent misdemeanants and found no statistical evidence that these laws reduced domestic violence.
The policy with the clearest evidence for reducing intimate partner homicides remains domestic violence restraining orders that temporarily prohibit firearm ownership. These findings are promising for Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) laws that seek to expand on this framework.