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Firearms and Domestic Violence. Coalition for Gun Control. OVERVIEW. The Problem Role of Firearms Legislation Gender, Attitudes, Change Implementation Issues Conclusions and Implications: for research and policy. THE PROBLEM. Women are affected differently by guns

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Firearms and Domestic Violence

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Firearms and Domestic Violence

Coalition for Gun Control


  • The Problem

  • Role of Firearms Legislation

  • Gender, Attitudes, Change

  • Implementation Issues

  • Conclusions and Implications: for research and policy


  • Women are affected differently by guns

  • In many contexts, more women are killed by intimate partners than strangers

  • When guns are available they are used in violence against women

  • Guns are more lethal – more women die

  • A gun in the home is a major risk factor for femicide

  • Guns are also used to threaten and subjugate women

  • Psychological and other impacts are significant

  • Risks to children and for suicide increase

  • Patterns are trans-national

Female Homicide Rates for 25 Populous High-Income Countries, 1994 to 1999 (per 100,000)

eg. Canada: Understand patterns

  • 85% of women murdered in Canada killed by intimate partners versus 15% of men

  • In 1991: 1/3 of murders of women by husbands in Canada with guns - 88% long guns

  • Most killed in their homes

  • 50% killers committed suicide

  • risk factors: alcohol, financial problems, marital breakdown, mental illness

  • for every death many are threatened: broader impacts

  • presence of firearm is a predictor of femicide, higher number of victims, murder-suicide

  • three inquests tell the story (Kassonde, May, Vernon)


  • UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (1998) called on states to “recognize the relevance of firearm regulation in addressing violence against women”

  • many countries explicitly target violence against women within firearms legislation

The Role of Legislation

  • Reduce the probability those who are a risk to themselves or others will obtain firearms

  • Reduce diversion of legal guns to illegal markets – raise barriers and effective prices

  • eg. screening processes for domestic violence, spousal notification, safe storage

  • Implementation is key – police, physicians, educators, shelters

Impact of Legislation

  • Reducing access to firearms in the home reduces lethality

  • In Great Britain, Australia and Canada, rates of women killed with guns dropped more than rates of men killed with guns (women more often killed in the home)

  • Rates of women killed with other means did not drop as dramatically

  • Laws both shape and reflect values: strong gun control reinforces values of non violence

Bunge, Valerie Pottie, National Trends in Intimate Partner Homicides, 1974-2000. Juristat, Vol 22, No. 5, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, 2002 p.5


  • Freedom from fear? There are significant gender splits in attitudes to firearms

  • Canada: 36% males, 59% females feared “you or someone in your household would be threatened or injured with a firearm”

Support for Gun Control LegislationJanuary 2003

46-Firearms ownership

Q.46 The Government of Canada has passed a law concerning the ownership of firearms. This law requires that Canadians register each firearm that they own, prohibits certain kinds of firearms, requires that owners pass a safety test and a safety check, and that firearms are stored unloaded in a secure place. In general, do you support or oppose this law? Would that be strongly or somewhat?

  • “While male – dominated societies often justify small arms possession through the alleged need to protect vulnerable women, women actually face greater danger of violence when their families and communities are armed”

  • - Barbara Frey, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights


  • Higher rates of gun ownership AND domestic violence in “honour cultures”

  • Link between attitudes to women, willingness to kill, homicide rates, and attitudes to gun ownership (McAlister, 2001).

  • “Honour cultures” have higher rates of gun ownership and interpersonal violence (Cohen, 1996).

  • Men (with guns) will often resist stronger gun laws

  • USA forced removal of any reference to regulation of civilian possession from the 2001 Program of Action on “The Illicit Trade of Small Arms in all its Aspects”

  • Many successful movements have been led by women


  • Laws are only words on paper: interpretation and application is critical

  • VAW is under-reported

  • Often law enforcement does not prioritize VAW

  • Justice systems trivialize VAW

  • Resources to address VAW are inadequate

  • VAW laws are not always linked to gun laws

Courts and Community based Policing

  • Improve implementation of laws and procedures to remove guns when there is a threat

  • Improve risk assessment: DOES HE HAVE A GUN?

  • Improve community/police relationships to prioritize violence against women

  • Training for police, judges, physicians, educators

  • Court watch: accountability


  • Women are affected differently by firearms: at risk from intimate partners, cycle of violence etc.

  • When firearms are accessible they are used in violence against women (lethality)

  • Current constructions (conflict versus crime; military versus non) not meaningful

  • Regulation of civilian possession of firearms is a critical to a global small arms strategy

  • Gender perspective is critical in addressing root causes, conflict and crime, implementation

Implications for Research

  • Disaggregate data by gender

  • Rates of murder with and without guns

  • Review femicide case studies to understand risk factors

  • Explore male/female attitudes to guns

  • Interviews of abused women (and workers with abused women) to understand the role of guns in cycle of abuse

  • Explore threats to children in homes with guns

  • Are children also killed with guns in the home?

  • Examine murder/suicide

  • Examine “gun culture” – media discourse, etc.

  • Examine application of laws and justice responses

Implications for Policy

  • Strong gun laws linked to domestic violence laws

  • Improve laws and procedures to remove guns when there is a threat

  • Improve risk assessment and interventions: DOES HE HAVE A GUN?

  • Improve community/police relationships to prioritize violence against women

  • Training for police, judges, physicians, educators

  • Understand link between attitudes to guns and violence against women

  • More women in policy and research

  • Analyse results of referendum

Human Rights Obligations

  • “a State can be held complicit [where it] condones a pattern of abuse through pervasive non-action … To avoid such complicity, States must demonstrate due diligence by taking active measures to protect, prosecute and punish private actors who commit abuses”

  • - Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (E/CN.4/1996/53)

  • There is no international “right to bear arms” States which fail to implement effect regulation of firearms may be failing their obligations under international human rights law.

  • "there is also growing pressure to hold States accountable for patterns of abuse, such as the State's failure to establish reasonable regulation regarding the private ownership of small arms that are likely to be used in homicides, suicides and accidents; its failure to protect individuals from a pattern of domestic violence; and its failure to protect individuals from organized crimes including kidnapping and killing for ransom".

  • - Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Small Arms (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/39; 5/ 2002)

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