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Opinion: Commentary: Guns Play a Major Role in Domestic Abuse
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Opinion: Commentary: Guns Play a Major Role in Domestic Abuse

Last week, our community here in Fairfax County was once again impacted by gun violence: this time, a domestic violence incident in Burke that left three dead and two law enforcement officers injured.

This tragic event showcases the necessity to overcome the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s unwillingness to pass common-sense gun violence prevention measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Domestic violence and intimate partner violence are inextricably linked to gun violence. While perhaps not as frequently cited in the news as mass shooting events (although 54 percent of mass shootings can be tied to a domestic dispute), domestic gun violence incidents are widespread and pervasive in our society, affecting families from all walks of life.

One in three women and one in four men have been the victim of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. These numbers are even more elevated for the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color (especially Native Americans, where 55 percent have reported being the victim of intimate partner violence).

Although both men and women are murdered by intimate partners, women are more likely than men to be murdered using firearms. While two-thirds of all victims murdered by a spouse or ex-spouse are killed with guns, the proportion of women is higher: approximately 70 percent. Women are also more likely to be murdered by someone they know, while men are more likely to be victims of violence by a stranger.

The effects of firearms in the home include more than injuries and death, as over 4.5 million women report being threatened by intimate partners using firearms at some point in their lives, without their abusers pulling the trigger. These instances include holding a gun during arguments, constantly reminding the victim of the gun’s existence, and even forcing the victim to load the gun themselves.

Approximately 1,300 people die each year in murder-suicides in the United States, and 65 percent of murder-suicide incidents involve an intimate partner. The simple presence of a gun in the home increases the likelihood that a woman will be shot and killed. Women who were killed by a spouse, intimate partner or a close relative were 7 times more likely to have lived in homes with guns.

Additionally, studies have shown that when there is a gun in a home with a history of domestic violence, there is a 500 percent higher chance that a woman will be murdered. Unfortunately, American women are unique in the fact that they are 16 times more likely to be killed by violence using a gun than women in other high-income countries.

So many of these deaths are preventable if we act to pass new laws and strengthen current laws. At the state level, we must pass universal background checks to prevent dangerous abusers from being able to access firearms. Other legislation was introduced during the July Special Session to prevent individuals who have permanent protective orders against them from purchasing, possessing, or transporting firearms. And Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court for temporary removal of firearms from an individual who is a danger to themselves or others.

On the federal level, the updated version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which passed the House of Representatives back in April, would close the “boyfriend” loophole. Current law only prohibits gun purchases by people who are “married to, lived with, or have a child with the victim” and who have been convicted of an abuse felony or have a restraining order against them. The new VAWA would extend the current law to include unmarried partners and misdemeanor convictions of domestic abuse and stalking behavior. Closing this gap will help to protect all victims of intimate partner violence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of domestic violence, and you want to talk about options and resources available, call the 24-hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline at 703-360-7273 or go to thehotline.org to chat online. To report a crime, call the Fairfax County Police Department at 703-691-2131 or, for emergencies, please call 911.