Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, against women is a disturbingly common occurance in the United States. Estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) indicate that from 1993 to 1998, women were victims of violent crimes by their intimate partners an average of more than 935,000 times a year. During this period, intimate partner violence comprised 22 percent of all violent crimes against women.a While firearms are used in a relatively small percentage of domestic violence incidents,b when a firearm is present, domestic violence can, and all too often does, turn into domestic homicide.
Congress has recognized the unique and deadly role firearms play in domestic violence. In 1994, Congress passed the Protective Order Gun Ban, which prohibits gun possession by a person against whom there is a restraining or protective order for domestic violence.c In 1996, Congress passed the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Gun Ban, which prohibits anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or child abuse from purchasing or possessing a gun.d
Currently, the Protective Order Gun Ban is under attack in the courts. The constitutionality of the law is being challenged in United States v. Emerson, which is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In Emerson, a federal judge struck down the Protective Order Gun Ban as unconstitutional. In an unprecedented ruling, he found that the Ban violated the Second Amendment and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. The judge’s decision in Emerson is supported by numerous pro-gun organizations, including the National Rifle Association. In the case, Sacha Emerson filed for divorce from her husband, Timothy Joe Emerson, and received a restraining order against him. While subject to the restraining order, Emerson not only continued to carry guns, but twice threatened to kill Sacha and threatened her and their child with a handgun.
Women must consider the risks of having a gun in their home, whether they are in a domestic violence situation or not. While this study does not focus solely on domestic violence homicide, it provides a stark reminder that domestic violence and guns form a deadly combination. Firearms are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.e Instead, they are all too often used to inflict harm on the very people they were intended to protect.
The Reality: The Husband or Boyfriend with a Gun
When Men Murder Women is an annual report prepared by the Violence Policy Center detailing the reality of homicides committed against women. The study analyzes the most recent Supplementary Homicide Report data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.f The information used for this report is for the year 1999. Once again, it is the most recent data available. This is the first analysis of the 1999 data on female homicide victims to offer breakdowns of cases in the 15 states with the highest female victim/male offender homicide rates, and the first to rank the states by the rate of these female homicides.
This study examines only those instances involving one female homicide victim and one male offender. This is the exact scenarioï¿½the lone male attacker and the vulnerable womanï¿½that is used by the gun lobby to promote gun ownership among women.
In 1999, there were 1,750 females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report.g These highlights from the report, expanded upon in the following sections, dispel many of the myths propounded by the gun lobby regarding the nature of lethal violence against women:
- More than 11 times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,521 victims) than were killed by male strangers (133 victims).
- Sixty percent (917) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintancesh of their killers.
- There were 317 women shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during the course of an argumentï¿½nearly one woman a day.
- More female homicides were committed with firearms (53 percent) than with all other weapons combined. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 76 percent were committed with handguns.
- In 87 percent of all incidents where circumstance could be determined, homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
The study also analyzes available information on the murders of black and Hispanic females. Not surprisingly, these homicides mirror the trends for women overall: most homicides against women are not committed by strangers, but by men known to the victims.
a) Callie Marie Rennison, “Intimate Partner Violence,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Washington DC, May 2000.
b) Lawrence A. Greenfield, et al, “Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC, March 1998, p. 22.
c) The law prohibits gun possession to a person “(8) who is subject to a court order that (A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had an opportunity to participate; (B) restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child; and (C)(i) includes a finding that such person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner or child; or (ii) by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury.” 18 USC 922(g)(8).
d) The law prohibits a person “who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” 18 USC 922(g)(9).
e) According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report, in 1999 there were only 155 justifiable homicides (the justified killing of a felon during the commission of a felony) committed by private citizens using firearms. Of these, only 134 involved handguns. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals or to stop crimes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of gun use in America are suicide (16,599 in 1999), homicide (10,828 in 1999), or fatal unintentional injury (824 in 1999). The April 1994 Justice Department study Guns and Crime revealed that from 1987 to 1992, the annual average of all victims of violence who claimed to have used a firearm of any type (handgun, shotgun, or rifle) to defend themselves was only about one percent (62,200 instances). Another 20,300 claimed to have used a firearm to defend their property during a theft, household burglary, or motor vehicle theft. Also, it is not known whether the gun was successfully used to stop the particular crime. In comparison, Guns and Crime reported that offenders armed with handguns alone committed a record 930,700 violent crimes in 1992.
f) The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects basic information on serious crimes from participating police agencies and records supplementary information about the circumstances of homicides in its unpublished Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). Submitted monthly, supplementary data consists of: the age, sex, race, and ethnicity of both victims and offenders; the types of weapons used; the relationship of victims to offenders; and, the circumstances of the murders. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, supplementary data are provided on only a subset of homicide cases. Additionally, SHR data are updated throughout the year as homicide reports are forwarded by state UCR programs.
g) In 1999 the states of Florida and Kansas did not submit any data to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report, while Alabama did not submit sufficient data to be included in this analysis. In addition, data from these states was not requested individually because the difference in collection techniques would cause a bias in the study results.
h) Intimate acquaintance is defined as a wife, common-law wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend.