Lock and Load Begins at Home

Last week, appalled and disgusted after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, I wrote that I had nothing more to add to what I‘d already said and written about guns, and god knows we’re all tired of repeating ourselves on an issue that should have been dealt with intelligently ages ago. But I’m not done, after all.

School shootings are currently the focus, and terrific kids in high schools across the country, catching inspirational fire from the Florida survivors, are leading the way. Maybe I’m crazy, too, falling for yet another hope that this time, this time, perhaps we have momentum. On the off chance that we do, I want to add to it by reminding us about what guns do to women.

I know, I know, some women like guns and own guns. OK, fine. But I haven’t yet heard of a woman going on a rampage and mowing down people with a semi-automatic rifle just for the hell of it. The numbers tell the story: 62 percent of gun owners are male, and white men are particularly likely to own guns. One woman in five (22 percent) owns guns, and women do so for different reasons than do men. Women cite protection and personal safety as their reasons, not hunting or sport or being a collector, and only very few see themselves as part of a gun culture (gun shows, periodicals, shooting ranges, clubs, etc.). But when it comes to the harm guns can do, women top the charts, as victims.

Domestic violence in America is to a significant degree a problem of gun violence. Over the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides in the United States have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined. In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by intimate partners in the U.S. America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries, and more than half of all women killed by intimate partners in the U.S. are killed with guns. An analysis of gun homicide rates in developed countries—those considered “high-income” by the World Bank— found that the United States accounted for 46 percent of the population but 82 percent of the gun deaths.

In nine of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern American history the gunman had records of threatening, stalking, or physically abusing loved ones—almost always women. Boyfriends are nearly as likely as husbands to be perpetrators, according to FBI data. Every Town For Gun Safety, an advocacy group, found that 54 percent of mass shootings were connected to family violence; in fact, most mass shootings—defined as shootings of four or more people—are episodes of domestic violence. In cases where relationship can be determined, 93 percent of women were killed by someone they knew, with researchers finding that up to 80 percent of intimate partner homicides involved a couple where the man had previously physically abused the woman.

Before there were school shootings, or church shootings, or massacres at dance clubs or concerts, domestic violence was already epidemic. It occurs every day, in every class and ethnic group, everywhere. It doesn’t get “Breaking News” interruptions on TV or major headlines the way other shootings do. But it provides the reliable background, the steady beat to the more dramatic foregrounds, like Parkland.

Myself, I really don’t believe there’s “common ground” in discussions of this. I know the history of the Second Amendment, and it is clear in restricting gun ownership to a “well regulated militia.” I also know that the Amendment was inserted at the demand of the slave-holding states, to protect their local posses that hunted down escaping enslaved Africans. Nevertheless, I understand that incremental change is probably the only way this country will eventually adopt the civilized mindset of every other industrialized, advanced country on the planet, and by so doing, vastly diminish the number of guns and vastly decrease the number of deaths.

There are so many things that could be done. One recent suggestion by Andrew Ross Sorkin, who covers economics for The New York Times, has already gained traction. He proposed that the finance industry—credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard and American Express, credit card processors like First Data; and banks like Chase and Wells Fargo—refuse to allow their services to be used for the sale of firearms. He noted that PayPal, Square, Stripe, and Apple Pay announced years ago that they would not allow their services to be used to buy firearms. Just within the past few days, starting with the Bank of Omaha severing its credit card association with the National Rife Association, we’ve seen a gathering momentum as car rental companies, hotel chains, and other businesses, in response to consumer emails and tweets and letters and calls, have ended their own NRA affiliations.

Then there’s the 1996 so-called Lautenberg amendment, named for the senator who proposed the bill—that those who commit violence against their own families should lose their Second Amendment rights forever; it passed almost unanimously in the Senate in 1996. It needs updating, since it covered only batterers who lived with their spouses or had children with them. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minnesota) has introduced a bill, cosponsored by Representative Debbie Dingle (D., Michigan), that would close some of the loopholes, would include current and former dating partners, and would strengthen laws to keep guns away from those convicted of stalking. Justice Department statistics show that 76 percent of women killed by their partners had been stalked before their deaths.

Extreme-risk protection orders could make a huge difference. Extreme-risk orders allow law-enforcement agencies and immediate family members to petition the court to temporarily prohibit a person’s access to firearms by showing he is a danger to himself and others. That seems mere commonsense. Oregon just this past week approved this law. Twenty-two states and Washington DC have laws that go beyond the federal limits for restraining orders, and their rate of partner homicide with firearms has dropped 14 percent. Four of those states prohibit gun possession by anyone convicted of a violent misdemeanor regardless of the victim’s relationship to the offender—and this has led to a 23 percent drop in intimate partner homicides. In Connecticut, a recent study found that over a 14 year period, extreme-risk protection orders prevented one suicide for every 10 to 20 guns seized; in other words, these orders could affect not only family violence but suicides and broader mass shootings as well.

Blaming this shoot ‘em up culture all on mental ill health is, well . . . crazy. Americans are not more mentally unstable than populations of other countries (although some days I confess I have my doubts about that). It’s just that we’ve allowed the NRA to control one of our two great parties for far too long. So while amping up the pressure on Congress—and making damned sure we flip Congress this fall—why not take our demonstrations and pressure to the source? Why not stage picket lines and rallies and die-ins round the clock at NRA headquarters itself?

Their address is conveniently displayed right on their website: National Rifle Association of America, 11250 Waples Mill Road, Fairfax, Virginia. What a perfect place for the executives and lobbyists, day after day, to hear chants of “Hey hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” and “Hey hey, NRA, how many women did you kill today?”

Just a thought. . . .