Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords this week launched a new campaign attacking gun violence.
The initiative, called the Women's Coalition for Common Sense, will focus on the nexus of guns and domestic violence.
Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to die as a result of gun violence than women in other high-income countries, according to a study published in the Journal of Trauma. More than half of the women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners or family members.
Giffords, who was nearly killed in 2011 when a shooter opened fire on a community meeting in Tucson, introduced the campaign with a painstakingly rehearsed speech during a daylong “Domestic Violence Awareness Summit” in Washington, D.C. (New Times tuned in via live stream).
“Guns and domestic violence are a deadly mix,” she said. Her words were slow and slurred, evidence of the bullet that seared through her brain. “That makes gun violence a women's issues.”
Giffords recruited a star-spangled, all-female board for the venture, called the Women's Coalition for Common Sense. Among her supporters, she counts former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, actress Connie Britton of ABC's Nashville, actress Alyssa Milano, of CBS' Melrose Place, and the presidents of two of the country's most prominent women's colleges, Barnard and Mount Holyoke. Barbara Parker, the mother of a Virginia news reporter who was shot and killed on live television earlier this year, also is on the board, as well as a number of prominent doctors, lawyers, and activists.
“Women can lead the way,” she said. “We stand for common sense. We stand for responsibility. We can change our laws.”
The coalition aims to close what Giffords sees as gaps in federal laws protecting battered women.
Currently, federal law prohibits people who are convicted of domestic violence from accessing guns if their victim was a spouse, relation, or cohabiting partner. However, it does not apply to people who abused current or former dating partners.
Federal law also denies firearms to people convicted of felony stalking. But many first-time stalkers take plea deals to get misdemeanor charges. Those convicts have no trouble getting guns.
“That leaves a lot of women unprotected,” said Marium Durrani, a public policy attorney with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that has signed on to the campaign.
Women are far more likely to be murdered if a gun is present during a domestic altercation if there is a gun in the house, she said. But abusers don’t even have to fire a gun to control and traumatize. Many abusers will simply “put the gun on the counter as an unspoken threat,” or remind the woman that the gun is in the safe, easily accessible.
Alan Korwin, author of Gun Laws of America and nine other books on firearm codes, argued, however, that having a gun in the house can actually aid victims of domestic violence.
“Where are the stories of the many, many women who have used guns to protect themselves?” he said.
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More and more women are arming themselves. Between 2005 and 2011, Gallup reported the percentage of American women who own a gun nearly doubled, from 13 to 23 percent. Studies show two-thirds purchased their weapons for safety reasons.
Statistics about how often women actually successfully use guns to defend themselves, are hotly contested. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which most agree is the most consistent data set, gun use in self-defense is rare. But, as Korwin pointed out, it’s difficult to measure homicides that didn’t happen — because they didn’t happen.
Before the 2011 shooting, Giffords supported easier access to guns. In 2008, she signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Washington D.C. prohibition on home handgun possession in District of Columbia v. Heller, which Second Amendment enthusiasts now consider a landmark case.
After her injury, however, Giffords, along with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, founded Americans For Responsible Solutions, a pro-gun control political action committee that seeks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. The two also co-authored a book outlining their views on responsible gun ownership, Enough: Our Fight to Keep American Safe from Gun Violence.