This is What Firearms Violence Looks Like in Intimate Partner Relationships
Any form of domestic abuse, whether it is physical, emotional, or financial abuse, is used for the purpose of controlling the intimate partner who is the target of the abuse. In cases where an abuser uses firearms violence to terrorize an intimate partner, the intimate partner’s risk of homicide immediately escalates to inescapably dangerous levels. Domestic violence and firearms are a lethal combination.
A large metanalysis of research on firearms violence in intimate partner relationships found that approximately 4.5 million women in the U.S. today have reported being threatened by their intimate partners with firearms violence. Of that number, 1 million reported that their abusive partners actually fired a gun at them.
What does firearms violence look like in intimate partner relationships? In an amicus brief filed by several domestic violence victim services organizations in support of the government in the case Voisine v. U.S. (and cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision), we can see the terrifying range of abusers’ use of firearms to coerce and control their victims:
· The abuser used a firearm to kill the family cat. The abuser frequently held the firearm to the victim’s head and said that he would kill her. The abuser often threatened to kill the family and then himself. The abuser told the victim that if she ever left, he would wait a few years to kill her so that no one would guess it was him.
· The abuser has a concealed-weapons permit and has put his gun on himself multiple times, and has threatened, “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill you.”
· A victim reported: “[He] never fired the pistol, but he would sit on my chest and point it at my head. He would put it right next to my temple.”
· A victim reported: “He will wave a gun in the air when we’re in an argument and say ‘I will end you with this and put you out of your misery.’”
· A victim reported: “He always told me that he would shoot me when I least expected it, like in my sleep.”
· A victim of ongoing domestic violence was at a family event at a park with her abuser. As the family was leaving because of heavy rain, the victim could not get the vehicle unstuck from the mud. The abuser became enraged. He pointed a gun at her chest and then fired a shot in the air.
These stories are terrifying. And the research tells a story of dangerous, unchecked threats by abusers against their intimate partners. We must act to reduce, if not end, the horror of firearms violence by abusers. It is critically important to ensure that courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement have the tools they need to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers and keep victims safe. Congress and the state legislatures must take a long, hard look at the significant work by academic researchers, as well as the anecdotes collected by victim services organizations, in order to understand the full impact of firearms violence in domestic violence cases.
In light of all we know of the lethal danger of firearms violence against intimate partners, we look to Congress and the state legislatures to develop and legislate a comprehensive public policy to reduce abusers’ ability to use firearms to control and terrorize their intimate partners.
Rob Valente is the Domestic Violence Policy Advisor at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
 Campbell, J.C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., Block, C., Campbell, D., Curry, M. A., Gary, F., Glass, N., McFarlane, J., Sachs, C., Sharps, P., Ulrich, Y., Wilt, S., Manganello, J., Xu, X., Schollenberger, J., Frye, V., & Lauphon, K. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: Results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1089–1097.
 Violence Policy Center (2017). When men murder women: An analysis of 2015 homicide data. Retrieved from http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2017.pdf; Bridges, F. S., Tatum, K. M., & Kunselman, J. C. (2008). Domestic violence statutes and rates of intimate partner and family homicide: A research note. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(1), 117–130; Campbell, J.C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., Block, C., Campbell, D., Curry, M. A., Gary, F., Glass, N., McFarlane, J., Sachs, C., Sharps, P., Ulrich, Y., Wilt, S., Manganello, J., Xu, X., Schollenberger, J., Frye, V., & Lauphon, K. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: Results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1089–1097; Saltzman, L. E., Mercy, J. A., O’Carroll, P. W., Rosenberg, M. L., & Rhodes, P. H. (1992). Weapon involvement and injury outcomes in family and intimate assaults. JAMA, 267(22), 3043–3047.
 Sorenson, S. B., & Schut, R. A. (2016). Nonfatal gun use in intimate partner violence: A systematic review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.
 Voisine v. U.S., decided June 27, 2016. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-10154_19m1.pdf
 Anecdotes are taken from the brief of amici curiae in Voisine v. U.S. http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/14-10154bsacNationalDomesticViolenceHotline.pdf.