The Unseen Harms of Guns in Domestic Violence 

By Jennifer M. Becker, Esq. Director, National Center on Gun Violence in Relationships 

When we talk about the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence we often focus on intimate partner gun homicides. Rightfully so, as we lose approximately 70 women each month in America at the hand of their intimate partners with a gun. But the reality is that guns play a much bigger role in domestic violence.  Many victims are subjected to unseen harms facilitated by guns. 

The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner...This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.” When an abuser has access to a gun, their use of that gun to further their abuse may take many forms. Among responses to a 2014 survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 22% of those whose partners had access to firearms said that their partner had threatened to use the firearm to hurt themselves, their intimate partner, their children, family members, friends and even pets with a firearm. Among those who reported that their partner had threatened them with a firearm, 76% indicated that their partner verbally threatened to use the gun, 24% reported their partner waved the gun around, 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others, and 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear. In one woman's words, “[He] never fired the pistol, but he would sit on my chest and point it at my head. He would put it right next to my temple.” 

This Gun Violence Awareness Month, we reflect on all the myriad ways a gun in the hands of an abuser can harm their intimate partner and the ever-present fear too many victims are living with each day. The U.S. has a legal framework to address the risks presented by guns within domestic violence.  Under federal law, and varying state laws, people who are the subject of certain domestic violence protection orders and people convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence are prohibited from accessing firearms and ammunition. For the purpose and intent of these laws to be realized, our communities need to implement them fully and effectively. For example, ensuring clear and consistent processes for relinquishment of guns in situations where they become prohibited. This is one way we reduce harm that persists at the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence. All of this starts with believing survivors. Too often survivors are voicing that they are in danger and their warnings are unheard or not understood. In that 2014 survey, 67% of those whose partner had access to a firearm reported that they believed their partner was capable of killing them. When these survivors voice their fear, their concern for the safety of themselves, their children, their family and friends, our systems must heed their warning and implement the policies that were enacted precisely in response to the reality that the presence of a gun makes it 5X likelier a woman will be killed by her abuser.  

BWJP’s National Center on Gun Violence in Relationships, which operates the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms, works to increase knowledge of the dangerous intersection of domestic violence and firearms and the legal framework that can help address it and to build the capacity of communities to implement these policies and reduce intimate partner homicides. To learn more about these issues and our work, visit  

TAGS: #BWJP Announcements #Firearms #Gender Based Violence #News

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