At the end of September this year, a young woman in Arkansas posted a handful of photos onto Snapchat. In one photo, the young woman is smiling while her boyfriend points a gun at the back of her head. Another photo shows the same gun lying on the floor next to a small pile of ammunition. There is another photo of the couple, a selfie, again posing with the gun. Later that night, that woman was shot dead by her boyfriend. Just over one week later, a woman was shot in the torso and killed in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district by a man who, witnesses said, is believed to be her boyfriend. That same week, a 49-year-old man in Michigan – with a criminal background of assault – shot his girlfriend to death in the home that the two of them shared.
“So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year – meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror," writes feminist author and historian Rebecca Solnit in her 2013 essay, The Longest War. "(Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the ‘war on terror.')" A 2014 article in The Atlantic highlighted the shortcomings of the idea that guns in the home would make that household safer when the opposite is true. In fact, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that “the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%.” And just last August, The Boston Globe pointed out the stark difference in the way the media reports domestic violence crimes in contrast to mass shootings committed by strangers. Public mass shootings make global headlines. Presidents and public figures make televised speeches. Victims are prayed for. Meanwhile, abusive partners are murdering women in this country with such regularity that we have become immune to shock.
And regardless of the reason – sheer denial, ingrained sentiments of entitlement, blind ignorance, a massively wealthy and well-oiled Gun Lobby machine – gun violence in this country remains a phenomenal issue. It is a phenomenon that will not fold in on itself and disappear. It is a phenomenon that is lethal, and particularly lethal to women.
But Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, are standing up to it.
At a 2011 constituent meeting at a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, AZ, Giffords was shot point-blank in the head in a shooting that resulted in the tragic death of six people and over a dozen injuries. The lone gunman was a 22-year-old man, later declared unfit to stand trial based on his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, who had purchased the Glock pistol six weeks before the shooting. Giffords made an inspiring and remarkable recovery, and – with Kelly – now devotes her time to gun violence prevention in the United States.
At the peak of Domestic Violence Awareness Month a few weeks ago, Giffords and Kelly launched the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense. The aptly named Coalition “will focus on advocating for action on commonsense laws that protect women and families from gun violence, and address the lethal links between access to guns and domestic violence.” The Coalition stemmed from pre-existing charity that the couple founded together, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) with similar, yet broader, goals for gun control. ARS was created “to encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.”
Last week, I had the opportunity to connect with Kelly about the new Coalition, how he and Giffords became involved in intimate partner violence and specifically violence against women, as well as what changes they are fighting to make.
I want to ask you a little bit about the foundations of the Coalition. The Coalition seems to have stemmed from Americans for Responsible Solutions. Have you and Ms. Giffords always wanted to focus on the issue of gender and gun violence? And when did the issue of intimate partner violence and gun use become a priority?
Mark Kelly: After the those twenty first graders and kindergartners were murdered in their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Gabby and I were shocked into action. So we founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, our non-profit organization, to urge our leaders to enact responsible laws that reduce gun violence and respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners like us.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Gabby and I started working hard to better understand the real toll of gun violence in our country, what our laws are, what the gaps are, and what kind of commonsense change could make our communities safer places to live. As we continued learning about gun violence in our country, we couldn’t escape the fact that our country has a problem with gun violence against women and families, and the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it a lot more likely that the woman is going to be murdered by her abuser. We were horrified by what we learned - data that makes our country stand out in the worst of ways, like:
- Women in the United States are eleven times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other developed countries like ours;
- From 2001 to 2012, more women in the United States were shot to death by an intimate partner than American troops who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and,
- The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed by her abuser.
Since then, Gabby has also traveled all over the country to meet with women leaders in their community to learn more about this issue and to hear what kind of solutions they think would help protect women and their families from gun violence.
As Gabby says, “Guns and domestic violence are a deadly mix.” That has become all too clear to Gabby and me, and that’s why we’ve made it a priority to work to address the lethal link between violence against women and dangerous people’s access to guns.
There are some really big names in the Coalition, from bipartisan politicians and academics to Hollywood actresses. How did you and Ms. Giffords manage to get so many people involved?
MK: Gabby is really grateful to have such an incredible group of uncommon voices joining her in this new push for some common sense. She really wanted to have a broad bipartisan group of women from across industries and sectors who really care about this issue, and who want to use their voice to call on our leaders to take action.
Can you tell me about the specific federal laws and loopholes that the Coalition is challenging?
MK: Gabby and the members of the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense are focused on responsible laws that close three big existing loopholes that make it too easy for dangerous abusers and stalkers to get a gun. These loopholes are a big reason why our country has such a problem with gun violence against women and their families.
The first loophole is that under our current federal laws, a suspected or convicted domestic abusers can’t pass a background check at a licensed gun dealer, where background checks are required. But that very same abuser has the option of buying a gun without a background check online or at a gun show. Why do we give them that option?
The second loophole we would like to see our leaders close is the “boyfriend gap.” Right now, federal law prevents people who are under domestic violence protection orders or have domestic violence convictions from accessing guns. But the law hasn’t been extended to address abuse of partners in dating relationships who don't live together and don’t have a child together. The idea here is pretty simple: Dating partner abuse is domestic abuse, and our gun laws should be updated to reflect that fact.
The third loopholes is the “stalker gap,” which allows people with misdemeanor stalking convictions to legally buy a gun. We don’t think that makes any sense at all - especially since stalking is such a clear precursor to escalating violence and since some of these misdemeanor stalking convictions happen when someone pleads down from a felony stalking charge or first-time domestic abuse offense.
What’s your response to the argument that more guns would prevent gun violence?
MK: For a long time, the gun lobby’s automatic responses to mass shootings has been “more guns.” For a long time, they’ve that we just need a “good guy with a gun” to prevent tragedies caused by a “bad guy with a gun” and to save some of the 12,000 Americans who are murdered with a gun every year in our country.
In some situations, has a “good guy with a gun” stopped the “bad guy with a gun?" Absolutely.
But more often than not, the good guy isn’t able to stop the bad guy. The reality is that not everyone can be John Wayne.
As anyone who’s been in a combat situation and been shot at like I have will tell you, it’s really chaotic. You have draw on months – even years – of training to make good decisions in a split second. And even then, it’s really hard to make the right choice. Even highly trained people with the best of intentions can make bad split-second decisions. And the results can be really tragic.
Gabby and I also worry that when everyone has a gun, it makes it a lot harder for our law enforcement officials to do their job. Imagine a situation where there’s a bad guy who opens fire, and the police show up, and all the citizens there have their gun out and aimed at someone else. What are the police supposed to do? It just got a hell of lot harder for our first responders to tell the “good guy with the a gun” from the “bad guy with a gun.”
Gabby and I are worried that if the corporate gun lobby gets its way, we’ll be a country where everyone is armed, but no one is safe.
ARS and the Coalition are inherently bipartisan – you and Ms. Giffords are gun owners and support the 2nd Amendment but advocate for stricter access to guns. It seems like a lot more would get done if the conversation didn’t always become such a politicized hot topic. How do you think we can overcome that and make the necessary changes?
MK: Gabby and I are proud gun-owners and value our Second Amendment rights. One of the reasons we founded our organization Americans for Responsible Solutions after the tragedy at Sandy Hook is that when we looked around at our country’s debate about our gun laws, we saw a debate that has become too political and way too out of balance. And we saw that no one was representing the interests of reasonable, law-abiding gun owners. So we want to bring balance back to this debate, and show Americans and our leaders in Congress that it’s possible to both protect the Second Amendment and make our country safer from gun violence.
How can citizens get involved in the Coalition?
MK: We hope that people wanting to learn more about how they can advocate for responsible solutions and join the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense can visit our website here.
In a country that is less concerned with the lives of its women than its fear of having its guns removed, the work that Giffords and Kelly are doing to create safer homes is immeasurable. And with a list of members -- from well-known politicians like Giffords herself and Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to Hollywood actresses like Alyssa Milano and Connie Britton -- the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense will make American women safer from the appalling gun violence that has already killed so many.
Photos Via Facebook/Americans For Responsible Solutions, Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly
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