By Catherine Beane, Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy, YWCA USA
On a cold morning in February, just over the Potomac River from where I live, a young mom helped her three-year-old daughter into the car as she headed to the elementary school where she worked. NeShante Davis had worked hard to earn her college degree and become a teacher. But she and her daughter, Chloe, never made it to school that day. Angry that he’d been ordered by the court to pay $600 a month in child support, Chloe’s father shot and killed them both. A gun in the hands of an intimate partner ended NeShante and Chloe’s lives.
The story stunned me. I’d packed my own children in the car that same cold morning and dropped them off at school before heading to work. Perhaps that is why NeShante and Chloe’s story has stayed with me.
Almost every day there is a new headline about guns and intimate partner violence. On just one morning in October, a quick Google search found two new headlines that day of women shot and killed by their intimate partners. In San Diego, Vanessa Bobo was shot and killed in front of her two children; her 5-year-old son helped police identify her boyfriend as the perpetrator. In Atlanta, a 39-year-old woman was shot and killed by her boyfriend, who told police that they got into a fight that escalated to violence and then gunfire. This is not a fun exercise, but the results are consistent.
In fact, 51 women are shot to death every month by a current or former partner, and intimate partner homicides account for nearly half of all women killed each year in the U.S. That’s more than one woman shot and killed by an intimate partner each day. Perpetrators with firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their partners than those without firearms. In fact, the mere presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. And in countless other cases, guns are used by abusers as instruments of fear and control over women.
The sad irony is that we already know what works to decrease the risks, but legal loopholes and administrative challenges keep many women in harm’s way. Federal law prohibits individuals who have been convicted of felony or misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those who are under a permanent restraining order from owning firearms. Some states also have similar restrictions in place. Laws like these that prohibit the purchase of a firearm by someone under a domestic violence restraining order have been associated with reducing the number of intimate partner homicides.
Despite the lethality risk, most states do not adequately comply with federal law that mandates seizure of firearms when a protective order is issued. Local law enforcement agencies too often report that they lack the resources to confiscate guns from dangerous abusers. We can close this gap with leadership, training, and resources. State and local law enforcement agencies can also adopt best practices for firearm surrender and removal that already exist. Moreover, required background checks prior to firearms sales would be more effective if we improved the entry of records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Each of these steps would improve safety for survivors, and law enforcement can take them without passing any new laws.
In addition, we also must close legal loopholes in current laws. Today, individuals convicted of stalking and dating partners convicted of domestic violence can still legally possess a firearm, leaving countless women at heightened risk. Congress can close these loopholes by passing bipartisan legislation such as the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (H.R. 2216). This bill would expand the definition of “intimate partner” to include dating violence and prohibit stalkers from purchasing or possessing guns.
H.R. 2216 would also put temporary restraining orders on par with permanent restraining orders so that firearms could be removed sooner. Women are at the greatest risk of homicide and serious injury immediately after leaving an abusive relationship. Removing firearms during this vulnerable time is a critical step toward ensuring their safety.
As YWCA commemorates its annual Week Without Violence, we are working every day to support survivors by advocating for changes in law and policy that will keep guns out of the hands of all perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking. I truly believe we have the power to domestic violence homicides – but we must take action. Tell Congress to work against violence by keeping guns from known abusers.
Catherine Beane is the vice president of public policy & advocacy for YWCA USA, where she leads the YWCA advocacy department’s efforts to impact legislation and policy related to racial justice and civil rights, women’s empowerment and economic advancement, and women’s health and safety. Beane has more than two decades of experience addressing equity issues in public policy and legal settings. Most recently, she addressed gender equity, school discipline, and student achievement issues for the National Education Association, and served as the policy director for the Children’s Defense Fund. Beane began her career providing direct service as a trial attorney representing indigent youth and adults in juvenile and criminal proceedings. Beane earned her B.A. from Emory University, and her J.D. from Catholic University of America.
YWCA’s Week Without Violence is part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls with the World YWCA. Want to join the movement to end gender-based violence? Learn more at www.YWCAweekwithoutviolence.org and join the conversation on Twitter with #WorkAgainstViolence.