The link between domestic violence and mass shootings is staggering: 54% of mass shootings in the United States stem from domestic violence. The presence of guns in an abusive relationship increases the risk of lethality eightfold, according to a study conducted by a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
HAVEN—along with our partners in the law enforcement, healthcare, and other emergency services sectors—provides the frontline response in these incredibly dangerous situations. We help survivors of abuse safety plan to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible. We are there to answer calls from the survivors at any hour of the day or night. We help survivors see the level of risk in their relationship by conducting lethality assessments with them. With our community’s support, we provide the life-saving services that give survivors options that go beyond staying in an abusive relationship.
What we can’t do is take the firearm from the abuser who uses its very presence as a threat. We need our lawmakers to do that.
Most (77% according to a recent study) Americans support red flag laws, laws that would allow a family member to seek a court order to temporarily take away a gun owner’s firearms if they are believed to be a threat to themselves or others. Additionally, 81% of Americans support laws prohibiting abusers subject to Orders of Protection from owning guns for the duration of the Order. Red flag laws would not touch the large majority of gun owners’ ability to own a gun. Only those gun owners who have exhibited violent behaviors would be affected.
For our friends, neighbors and family members who have experienced abuse, measures such as these could save lives. Every month in our country, 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. I have often heard the refrain, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True. But guns make it so much easier. And when abusers have access to guns, domestic violence is more likely to be fatal.
A 2007 study found that 78% of murderers interviewed who had killed their partner said they would not have done so if they did not have a gun.
There is no shortage of data demonstrating how much more lethal guns make an already violent relationship. The numbers can start to look like just numbers if we dive into them for too long. Through my work at HAVEN, I know the numbers translate to the women, men and children we do our very best to support.
I recently spoke at an event, and afterward, four audience members approached me and said that their abusers had threatened them with guns. They were able to safely leave through the support of friends, family and HAVEN. Four members of our community from one event with maybe 60 people in attendance. Four members of our community who had feared for their lives.
Montanans and, in particular, responsible gun owners, have the chance to demand life-saving changes for the most vulnerable members of our community. I wholeheartedly believe that responsible gun owners value the lives of their neighbors over an abuser’s access to guns. We need your voices to get the attention of our lawmakers in Helena and Washington, D.C.
By temporarily removing firearms from the equation, red flag laws protect people from abusers deemed by a judge to be a threat. This is the legal response to mass shootings that survivors in Montana deserve.
Erica Aytes Coyle is the executive director of HAVEN. The Bozeman-based nonprofit is committed to reducing the incidence and minimizing the impact of domestic abuse on families and communities.