Why gun violence is a feminist issue

In the wake of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, young people are organizing themselves to say enough is enough and call for the end of gun violence. As a phenomenon that disproportionately affects American women, tackling gun violence has to be an issue feminists are concerned with. Gun violence is connected to long established feminist interests – violence against women, intersectionality and toxic masculinity.

FBI crime data shows that in the United States an American woman is murdered by a gun shot by her partner every 16 hours. Living in an abusive household is terrifying enough for women, but living in an abusive household with the presence of a gun hugely increases the likelihood that a woman will be killed by her intimate partner. But it is not only husbands perpetrating domestic homicides; dating partners have recently overtaken spouses as those most likely to shoot a woman. Gun violence impacts all women, but as always intersectionality is central to this issue. In 2014, the rate of black females murdered was almost twice as high as white females according to the Violence Policy Centre. The weapon most commonly used (in 57% of black homicides in 2014) was a gun. The feminist movement needs to show an intersectional and united front against gun crime.

Talking about domestic abuse and gun violence with the current Trump administration in power is a challenge. President Trump himself has been accused of sexual misconduct and although he has stated that he is “totally opposed to domestic violence”, he has also praised a former aide, Rob Porter, accused of assault by two ex-wives and dismissed domestic abuse claims against Porter as “mere allegations.” With the current Trump administration frequently falling on the side of men, women must fight even harder for the risks posed by guns in violent households to be recognised.

It must be noted that there are laws in place designed to keep guns away from domestic abusers. Federal law in the United States prohibits domestic violence offenders, whether this be individuals convicted of a felony, misdemeanour or subject to a restraining order, from buying or possessing handguns (not semi-automatic rifles such as the one used in the Parkland school shooting). To a certain extent these laws have been working, in the few states which require background checks for all private handgun sales women are 46% less likely to be shot by their partner (according to research by Everytown for Gun Safety). 

However, in the majority of states loopholes remain that allow abusers to avoid background checks by purchasing guns from private dealers, online sellers or at gun shows. Also, the laws do not impact dating partners, boyfriends or stalkers, all of whom are still legally able to purchase firearms. More worryingly, almost all states do not require convicted domestic abusers to relinquish their guns allowing these men to hold on to their weapons.

However, the link between domestic abuse and gun crime cannot be dismissed as a simple domestic issue, as a history of abuse towards women is a common characteristic among mass shooters. Research by Everytown for Gun Safety found that in 57% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2014 the perpetrator killed an intimate partner or family member. Although the media tends to argue that the key similarity between mass shooters is mental illness, recent American mass shooters have overwhelmingly been male with a history of abusive and/or misogynistic behaviour. Devin Kelley, who murdered 26 people, including his wife’s grandmother, at Sutherland Springs church last year, was prohibited from possessing a handgun as he had been convicted of assaulting his ex-wife and stepson and threatening them with a loaded gun. Despite this, he owned two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle.

Unsurprisingly, President. Trump said of this tragic event “I think that mental health is a problem here […] but this isn’t a guns situation.” Kelley is not the only example of the connection between violence against women and mass shootings. The perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas, was reportedly verbally abuse to his girlfriend in public on many occasions. Nikolas Cruz, the suspected shooter in Parkland, was also reportedly abusive towards his ex-girlfriend and so interested in another female student his maths teacher described it as “to the point of stalking her”. This is a common pattern.

Gun violence is part of a culture, which values and encourages men to be strong and powerful above all else. This culture of toxic masculinity is dangerous for everyone, by making men and boys feel that owning and shooting a gun is what it means to be a man. Guns are masculinity embodied to America. A mass shooting which highlights this so clearly occurred in 2014 when Elliot Rodger shot and killed 6 people and injured 14 others. He reasoned on a YouTube video, posted before he shot himself, that his behaviour was warranted as retribution for the women who had rejected him and the men they chose to sleep with instead. The feeling of entitlement Rodger held was transformed into murder because he was able to possess a gun.

Gun control is about creating a future society where women and girls are safe from the fear of domestic abuse becoming a domestic homicide or a mass shooting and men and boys understand that their “manliness” is not defined by wielding a weapon. All of this is in the interest of feminism and the organisers of last years Women’s March have announced their support for the students fighting back. While other feminist movements are blossoming, this has to be time up for women when it comes to gun violence.

Photo Credit: Rhona Wise/AFP.

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