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Domestic Violence

Once Every 16 Hours, An American Woman Is Fatally Shot by a Current or Former Romantic Partner

The tally comes amid states' uneven attempts to plug loopholes in federal laws meant to keep guns out of abusers’ hands.

On Thursday, January 28, Tania Adams, a 41-year-old mother of three, was gunned down by her estranged husband in the clubhouse of a planned community she worked at in Homestead, Florida. He then wounded one of her co-workers before fatally shooting himself. According to a fundraising drive set up to help pay for her funeral expenses, Adams had left the man, whose name was not released, around Christmas. By then he’d allegedly threatened her life “numerous times.”

The next evening, 44-year-old Cheryl Snyder Tremmel was shot several times in Hemitage, Pennsylvania while attempting to move out on her husband. As she lay dying of her wounds, Edward Tremmel, texted her father, “I’m sorry that it has to end this way,” then shot himself in the head.

The day after that, on a Saturday night, 23-year-old Ashley Jones was shot and killed along with her boyfriend at her home in Newark, New Jersey. Jeffrey Holland, the 27-year-old father of two of Jones’s children, was arrested for the shooting. A neighbor said Jones had gotten a restraining order against Holland a week earlier, after an argument left her face bruised.

For American women, those incidents amount to a typically fatal stretch. According to FBI and state crime data analyzed by the Associated Press, at least 6,875 people were fatally shot by romantic partners from 2006 to 2014. Eighty percent of those victims were women. On average, that works out to 554 annual fatal shootings of an American woman by a current or former romantic partner during the nine years examined, or one every 16 hours.

The domestic homicide data the AP studied comes from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, which collects figures from law enforcement agencies in 49 states. The exception is Florida, which uses a different system to categorizes domestic violence deaths. To plug the state’s figures into its national tally, AP data journalist Meghan Hoyer used statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s homicide report. But because Florida does not break out victims by gender, its numbers were excluded from the number crunching you see here.

Of the female victims in the AP’s study period, 3,100 — or roughly 56 percent of the total women killed — were shot by husbands, ex-husbands, or common-law husbands.

Another 1,953 women were killed by their boyfriends.

While raw homicide figures do not reveal the circumstances surrounding the homicides — whether the murder weapon was lawfully owned, when it was obtained, or if the killer had prior history of violence — the breakdown of married and unmarried victims is itself relevant to the gun policy debate. The Lautenberg Amendment, which bans the possession of guns by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, applies only to couples who have a child together; are married or living together; or used to be. If a woman presses charges against a dating partner that result in a domestic abuse conviction, the convicted abuser will still be allowed to have firearms, a gap sometimes referred to the “boyfriend loophole.” While the law uses relationship status to determine who is and who is not eligible for its protections, the comparative frequency of fatal shootings of married and unmarried women shows that domestic homicide does not limit itself to one category of women.

The AP published its data analysis to anchor a series on state legislative efforts to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. Thirteen states have passed laws in the last two years limiting gun access for domestic offenders. The National Rifle Association, which forestalled such legislation in the past, has played ball with lawmakers in some of those places. But despite the rare bipartisan momentum, concerns about gun rights have prevented some measures from going as far as they could.

A bill in Virginia, for instance, would bar gun possession for anyone subject to a permanent restraining order and has gained the support of state Republican lawmakers. But it doesn’t establish a process by which abusers’ guns would be surrendered. Under current Connecticut law, a gun ban only kicks in after a judge holds a hearing and issues a permanent restraining order, but a new proposal would give someone served with an initial, temporary restraining order 24 hours to transfer his or her guns and ammunition to police or face a penalty. A previous version of this bill was blocked because it was deemed “unnecessary.” Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy resurrected the proposal earlier this month.

Hoyer cautions that the AP’s numbers undercount the country’s total domestic violence deaths. A shooting was excluded if a local law enforcement agency wasn’t clear about the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. And because the underlying incidents are self-reported by local agencies to the FBI, some crimes may never reach the federal dataset.

Nor do the totals factor in the friends and children of abuse victims who often get caught up in the carnage.

Three days after Ashley Jones was murdered by a former partner in Newark, NeShante Alesha Davis, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher, was found shot to death in a parking lot outside of her Fort Washington, Maryland home. She had been heard arguing with Daron Boswell-Johnson, the 25-year-old father of her toddler, over a $600-a-month child support petition.

Two-year-old Chloe was found in her car seat, dead of a gunshot wound. Boswell-Johnson has confessed to the murders.

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