Domestic violence is not a crime “of passion.” It is a crime, full stop.
It is also an urgent social problem and a public health crisis. It is not, and never should have been, a private family matter. Domestic violence and gun violence are intricately interwoven.
No other developed country has America’s rate of gun homicides — murders of intimate partners, of their children, of their family and friends, or, of complete strangers. Gun violence is a scourge in our homes, in our workplaces, and in public where people gather to shop, eat, learn, pray or socialize.
I believe that a woman’s right to safety comes before an abusive man’s right to own a gun. The Second Amendment was drafted to protect the rights of slave owners and allow them to organize “militias” to quell slave rebellions. It is not a stretch to see the way gun culture has become an appendage of masculinity and how it is used to control and instill fear.
The connections between misogyny, domestic violence and mass shootings have been widely researched and reported. We see the consequences in all corners of America every day. In our own small community, one of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center’s clients was killed by her estranged husband with a gun. Out of this tragedy grew our local and national homicide prevention work.
Collaborating with researchers in the field, law enforcement, the courts, prison, parole, clinicians and legal advocates, we created the Domestic Violence High Risk Team model and the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement, a screening tool for use by police on the scene of dangerous domestic violence calls locally and across the country, closing gaps in communication that leave women more vulnerable to murder. One of the questions that most strongly predicts a woman’s future murder is: “Is there a gun in the home?”
The presence of a gun in the home increases a woman’s odds of being murdered by 500%. The argument that women should own a firearm for protection is a red herring because it is much more likely to be used against her than by her.
Domestic violence is not caused by violent video games, which did not exist when male violence against women began. Our frequent American gun massacres are not caused by gaming, either, because people in other countries engage in the same hobby and their societies are peaceful. If mental illness were the primary reason for any of this carnage, we’d see gun homicides committed by the men of other countries, and we’d see more perpetrators who are women. We don’t.
Easy access to guns plus masculinity are the recipe for our particular American version of firearm homicides. I’m not talking about all men – or “good” men – but our social construct for what masculinity means. Men are strong, stoic and in control; women are weak, emotional and submissive to men.
Toxic masculinity amplifies these stereotyped and harmful gender roles. Aggrieved entitlement occurs when men don’t get what they believe they are owed by women, be that sex or sandwich making. This can turn to anger, resentment and, ultimately, to physical violence.
Guns allow violence to become lethal very quickly and very expansively — to individual women and to crowds of people who represent to shooters whatever happens to be the source of their rage. One in four women are physically abused during their lifetimes, and they are not all abused by mentally ill men, but by entitled and controlling men.
So, what is it about guns? People kill other people with knives and baseball bats. Actually, there are things about guns that make them very different than most other weapons. Guns allow you physical distance from the human body you are trying to harm. You don’t have to touch that body or get that body’s blood on your own.
Guns are mythologized in our culture. Spain has their bullfights. Rome had their gladiators. We have a constitutional amendment written in 1791 for nefarious purposes that our current government and the NRA hold sacrosanct despite the rising body count and disapproval by a significant majority of American voters. No one is arguing for the confiscation of all guns. People are arguing for common sense.
Our politicians need to allow research into gun violence and disallow the lobbying group called the National Rifle Association to continue blocking any positive steps toward better regulation. Universal background checks and red flag laws must be passed. The “boyfriend loophole” must be closed.
Semiautomatic assault weapons should be banned and high-capacity magazines outlawed. Elect strong leaders — especially women — who are pro-gun control and who reject NRA money and influence.
Here in Massachusetts, we have among the strongest gun control laws — and fewest per capita gun homicides — in America. However, we’re only as good as the states around us. Sensible gun control saves lives, and the lives they save could belong to your own loved ones or to you personally.
Lori Day is president of the board of directors of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Newburyport.