Domestic Violence Rates Are Up And More Women Than Ever Own Guns. Should You?

The Second Amendment hasn’t always been the first thing on women’s minds. That’s changing.

By Alina Clough4 min read
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Daengpanya Atakorn/Shutterstock

Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” is a really great song. It tells the story of a father passing down his gun skills and Second Amendment values to his daughter, warning her about certain men and giving her the responsibility of protecting her family. In many ways, it’s a musical snapshot of Americans’ current relationship with guns: Firearm defense is getting handed down to daughters.

Gun ownership is no longer a man’s game. Back in 1980, most men owned a gun, but only about 1 in 10 women did. Though the trend has grown bit by bit, the past few years have seen a marked spike. The pandemic and social justice riots of 2020 sparked an increase in gun sales, most of them to women. As recently as 2017, women made up less than a third of gun owners, but women have accounted for half of all gun purchases in recent years, contributing to the steady increase in U.S. gun sales. 

The diversity of gun ownership is increasing on other levels, too. Black women in particular are the fastest growing group of American gun owners, and retailers say they’re seeing increasing purchases among Hispanic and Asian women as well. Most of these newly armed ladies say they’re buying firearms for self-protection, but naysayers are quick to say that owning guns isn’t safe for women. Should we really leave the guns to the guys?

The Shadow Pandemic

The Second Amendment exists to help citizens protect themselves when their government can’t or won’t. While many gun owners envision themselves preparing for masked midnight intruders, it’s much more common that the threat is coming from inside the house, especially for women. Rates of domestic violence have increased by a third in recent years, in what some are calling a “shadow pandemic” following Covid lockdowns. Although domestic violence against men is also an issue, the overwhelming majority of intimate partner homicides involve men killing women, and are usually preceded by physical abuse from the boyfriend or husband. Laws already exist to try to keep violent offenders away from their victims – and keep guns out of their hands – but people who are willing to break the law to abuse their partners are often also willing to break it to continue doing so.

The pandemic and social justice riots of 2020 sparked an increase in gun sales, most of them to women. 

Restraining orders and police reports are a wise first step for any woman who’s been hurt by an intimate partner. If you’ve experienced domestic abuse, you should always report it to the police to establish a paper trail, but you should also consider taking measures to protect yourself. Still, orders of protection are often not sufficient or can be hard to access, especially for those in more rural areas. They’re also not immediate or permanent, meaning there are windows of time, like before the order of protection hearing or after it has expired, where you may not have an active restraining order if you haven’t been granted emergency protection.

In the Defensive Gun Use (DGU) Database, out of 208 recent defensive gun uses, 24 were cases where the would-be victim already had a restraining order and an additional three involved cases where the victim was in the process of obtaining or renewing an order. Another 15 had a history of police intervention or a criminal history of domestic violence. Just last year in Elmore, Alabama, a woman shot her ex-boyfriend who had stalked and attacked her at home, keeping him at gunpoint until police arrived. Police later found he’d brought a pry bar, handcuffs, and several weapons.

Armed and Dangerous

Wait, so shouldn’t we just take guns away from violent men? We already do. At least, on paper. The Lautenberg Amendment has been in place for almost 30 years, and makes it a felony for anyone convicted of domestic violence to possess firearms, but states struggle with enforcing it, and some just rely on the criminal to comply. California has spent millions of dollars trying to chip away at its Armed and Prohibited Persons System, a database of all the violent offenders it hasn’t gotten around to disarming. One domestic abuser in the system has 44 firearms. A woman with severe mental health issues still has 22. And a convicted rapist has remained armed despite a court order he’s successfully ignored. Partly due to Covid setbacks, the database now includes a record-high 24,000 armed criminals in California. In the early pandemic, one California woman pleaded with courts, saying, “He has always told me that a restraining order is not bulletproof and that he will find me.” She was killed a month later.

Other states’ gun laws mean that women have more in their arsenal than begging ineffective courts for protection. Last year in Tulsa, a woman’s ex-boyfriend came knocking shortly after she’d been granted a restraining order. He was armed, but so were she and her new boyfriend, who shot the intruder after he kicked down their front door. Similarly in Texas, a woman fled to a neighbor’s house with her three children, only for her husband to follow with a shotgun, shooting at his wife and kids through the door. Fortunately, the neighbor was armed, saving the woman’s life and those of her children.

Wielding Responsibly

An oft-cited factoid is that women who own guns are more likely to be victims of gun violence than to defend themselves, but this doesn’t mean, as many people assume, that women are overpowered by men who take their guns. Cases where women have their guns taken and used against them are extremely rare. Based on a review of the gun violence archive and other sources, there appear to be only two media-verified cases in recent years, one in which the perpetrator demanded the gun from the woman and used it against her weeks later and one in which he physically wrestled it away from her in the moment. The statistic of women being less safe once they own guns instead points to two main ways we should be extra cautious around our firearms: mental health and proper training.

The main reason gun ownership can make women less safe is because they’re at an increased risk for suicide.

Especially if you’re new to guns, taking firearm classes to learn how to properly use and store your gun is imperative. Firearms help close the strength gap between men and women, but only if you know how to use them. Defensive firearm training can help you learn how to use the added power of a gun to your advantage, by keeping it under control and at a safe distance from anyone who might want to grab it from you. Classes can also teach you how to safely store firearms so that children or other family members can’t hurt themselves or others with a weapon they shouldn’t be holding, and some are geared more towards better understanding your state’s laws. For example, the legality of defending property and what counts as self-defense can vary widely state-to-state.

You should also be cautious if you struggle with mental health. The main reason gun ownership can make women less safe isn’t because they’re overpowered by men, it’s because they’re at an increased risk for suicide. Especially if you’ve ever been suicidal or have members in your household who are, you may want to think carefully about whether it’s safe to own a gun, or at least work out a contingency plan. Having a plan to leave your guns in safe keeping, either with a gun club or a trusted gun owner who can legally watch them for you, is crucial, even if you think you’ll never need it.

Closing Thoughts

Domestic violence trends are no joke, and staying safe as a woman means being able to defend yourself. Most states seem more intent on making new laws for law-abiding citizens than enforcing the ones they have against criminals. The best thing our country can do is put violent offenders in prison, but the best thing women can do is be proactive about their self-defense. Waiting for restraining orders, permits, or waiting periods isn’t a spot you want to be in if a guy ever turns nasty. 

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