Many women – those in abusive relationships, those who have left such relationships, those who fear, in general, for their safety – have considered bringing a gun into their home as a measure of protection. Yet, gun ownership contains clear risks that should deeply concern women. A 1997 Archives of Internal Medicine study that examined the risk factors of violent death for women in the home in three United States counties found that when there were one or more guns in the home, the risk of homicide increased more than three times.l The increased risk of homicide associated with firearms was attributable to homicides at the hands of a spouse, intimate acquaintance, or close relative. Furthermore, a gun in the home is a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spousal abuse to homicide. In a study of family and intimate assaults for the city of Atlanta, firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults between family and intimates.m
Most recently, a study this spring from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that although the United States represented only 32 percent of the female population among 25 high-income countries, it accounted for 84 percent of all female firearm homicides. The study’s lead author, Dr. David Hemenway, concluded that “the difference in female homicide victimization rates between the US and these other industrialized nations is very large and is closely tied to levels of gun ownership. The relationship cannot be explained by differences in urbanization or income inequality.”n
The picture that emerges from When Men Murder Women is that women face the greatest threat of from someone they know, most often a spouse or intimate acquaintance, who is armed with a gun. For women in America, guns are not used to save lives, but to take them.
l) James E. Bailey et al., “Risk Factors for Violent Death of Women in the Home,” Archives of Internal Medicine 157 (April 14, 1997): 777-782.
m) Linda E. Salzman et al., “Weapon Involvement and Injury Outcomes in Family and Intimate Assaults,” JAMA 267, no. 22 (1992): 3043-3047.
n) David Hemenway, et al., “Firearm Availibility and Female Homicide Victimization Rates among 25 Populous High Income Countries,” Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association (JAMWA) 57 (Spring 2002): 100-104 and Harvard School of Public Health press release, April 17, 2002.