Domestic violence claims at least 2,000 lives each year. Seventy percent of the victims are women. More than half of the time, the weapon used to carry out an “intimate partner” homicide — when a person targets a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone with whom they previously had a romantic relationship — is a gun.
The link between guns and fatal domestic abuse is so strong, research shows that simply living in a state with a high rate of firearm ownership increases a woman’s risk of being fatally shot in a domestic violence incident.
The domestic violence epidemic is fueled by many factors, but the presence of firearms often increases the lethality of attacks and expands the number of victims. Abusers intent on killing an intimate partner, especially if they use a gun, often take out other people who happen to be on the scene: children, friends, grandparents, total strangers.
While the stats show that guns are used to kill women in 53 percent of intimate partner homicides, they are responsible for 70 percent of these collateral victims. Of police officers slain while responding to domestic disputes, 95 percent of them were killed with firearms. One study found that domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun.
“One of the myths about domestic violence is that it’s private, that it happens behind closed doors and we should just stay out of it,” says Leslie Morgan Steiner, an abuse survivor and author whose memoir Crazy Love chronicled the story of her violent relationship. “It’s such an enormous community problem.”
Federal law bars convicted domestic abusers from gun ownership, but without matching state laws, local authorities often have no effective way of disarming those found or alleged to have done a partner harm. The majority of Americans support laws to prohibit abusers — and subjects of restraining orders — from gaining access to weapons, but only a handful of states have them in place.
To record how far fatal domestic shootings reach — and how far short current laws fall in decreasing them — The Trace has compiled the statistical guide that follows.