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Domestic Violence Hurts Us All

Many of us have experienced a form of domestic abuse. Maybe it was an angry partner who had too much to drink and regretted their outburst the next day. Perhaps it was a parent whose dead-end job was so stifling that they took it out on their family. Possibly it was a grandparent who used intimidation or ridicule to control a child’s behavior. In any case, such experiences are traumatic.

I was 19 years old when an ex-boyfriend, high on vicodin, broke into my apartment, held me captive, beat and assaulted me. The SWAT team came to free me. Although I was lucky to be saved, these memories haunted me for many years. It was a relief to know that my ex-boyfriend was convicted and served time.

Being verbally harassed or physically assaulted leaves lasting marks. Add a gun into the equation, and the scenario is exponentially threatening, as US representative from Rhode Island David Cicilline wrote in a recent Boston Globe editorial. One in four women and one in nine men have experienced severe forms of physical intimate partner violence and understand what it feels like to live in true fear for their safety — especially when their abuser has a firearm.

Luckily, I was not the victim of gun violence. A woman is killed by her intimate partner with a gun every 14 hours in this country.

Congress passed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. Among other provisions, it bars those who have been served with domestic abuse restraining orders from possessing firearms.

“When a domestic abuser owns a gun,” Cicilline revealed, “their partner is five times more likely to be killed than if the abuser didn’t own a firearm, and more than half of all domestic partner killings are committed with a firearm.”

Domestic abusers should not have access to guns. As Ciciline says, “probable targets include vulnerable individuals and groups, perpetuating — and worsening — dangerous inequities and tragedy.” These are youth and innocents, the defenseless and weak.

Unfortunately, not all victims of domestic abuse when a gun has been involved experience the Act’s protections. In fact, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit made domestic violence survivors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas more unprotected from continued violence. The court’s decision, Ciciline argues, “opened the door for possible consequences to survivors nationwide.”

In its decision, the court asked: “Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms? Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?” Cicilline is disgusted by this rationale, stating that “it defies logic to equate abusers’ actions to driving a gas vehicle or not recycling their plastic bottles. The parallel is ludicrous, insulting, and dangerous.”

How can victims of gun-involved domestic abuse reconcile court decisions like this? Moreover, how can jurists favor some version of Second Amendment rights over the safety and security of US citizens? These are questions without easy answers.

But there are ways to work toward a keener, more meaningful sense of inner peace. Joining with others who have been abused in support groups; attending knowledge workshops about the trauma of gun violence; or participating in social activism to promote new, robust gun laws can help.

As the information below indicates, there are networks we can turn to for guidance about domestic abuse and guns.

  • The Everytown Survivor Network is a nationwide community of survivors working together to end gun violence. The Survivor Network connects survivors to each other, amplifies the power of survivor voices, offers trauma-informed programs, provides information on direct services, and supports survivors who choose to become advocates.

  • The consequences of gun violence are more pervasive and affect entire communities, families, and children. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) believes it is time to broaden the focus of the gun debate to include the social, emotional, physical, and mental health impact of those traumatized by gun violence, especially children and youth. Participants focus on the culture of violence and fear in many of the communities they serve, the difficulties of combating gun use and violence, the need for community development that is focused on reducing violence, the impact on the children and youth exposed to violence, and what is needed to address the mental health needs of those exposed to gun violence. Such discourse requires a sufficient number of providers trained in age-appropriate, evidence-based, and trauma-informed treatments.

  • The Prevention Institute’s recommendations begin with attention to reducing immediate risks related to guns, broaden to address the underlying contributors to gun violence, and then address the prevention infrastructure necessary to ensure effectiveness. They seek to reduce the imminent risk of lethality through sensible gun laws and a culture of safety; systematically reduce risks and increase resilience in individuals, families, and communities; ensure effectiveness and sustainability of efforts; and continue to learn, innovate, and increase impact through research and practice.

  • NEA remains committed to ending gun violence in US public schools and communities through legislative action, crisis preparation, and supporting the mental health, education, and well-being of every student and educator. They say to keep students safe — in our schools and in our communities — we must limit access to guns in the first place by providing universal background checks, banning assault-style weapons, passing red flag laws, and other legislation.

  • Amnesty International’s report, Fragmented and Unequal, shows how the justice system in Louisiana is failing survivors of domestic violence. From failing to take violence seriously, to arresting survivors who call for help, the response from the authorities is frequently inadequate and discriminatory. By telling their stories, these survivors are letting others know that it’s possible to overcome both the trauma of domestic violence and the injustice of the system. They are using their experiences to help others, and showing that there is a way out. These stories are powerful, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

  • The Giffords Center for Violence Intervention (GCVI) champions community organizations working to save lives on the ground because such organizations are remarkably effective when given the proper funding and support. GCVI team researches and promotes community violence intervention strategies, connects community organizations to policymakers and to one another, and helps secure funding for violence intervention initiatives nationwide.

US gun violence is a complex problem. We need to come together to rid our society of this scourge.

We must resist our urges to disengage, even when the thought of rising up seems overwhelming.

We should share the key message that gun violence is preventable.

We need to promote legislation that disarms all convicted domestic abusers.

We can advocate for background checks for all gun sales.

More than anything, it is necessary that we reframe gun violence as a public health issue.

Will you help?


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