When Men Murder Women

An Analysis of 2019 Homicide Data

Introduction

Intimate partner violence against women is all too common and takes many forms.1 The most serious is homicide by an intimate partner.2 Guns can easily turn domestic violence into domestic homicide. One federal study on homicide among intimate partners found that female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined, concluding that “the figures demonstrate the importance of reducing access to firearms in households affected by IPV [intimate partner violence].”3

Guns are also often used in non-fatal domestic violence. A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed gun use at home and concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”4

The U.S. Department of Justice has found that women are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially when a weapon is involved. Moreover, women are much more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.5

A woman must consider the risks of having a gun in her home, whether she is in a domestic violence situation or not. While two thirds of women who own guns acquired them “primarily for protection against crime,” the results of a California analysis show that “purchasing a handgun provides no protection against homicide among women and is associated with an increase in their risk for intimate partner homicide.”6 A 2003 study about the risks of firearms in the home found that females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.7 Finally, another study reports, women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.8

While this study does not focus solely on domestic violence homicide or guns, it provides a stark reminder that domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination. According to reports submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), firearms are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.9 Instead, they are all too often used to inflict harm on the very people they were intended to protect.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in 2019 there were only 367 justifiable homicides committed by private citizens. Of these, only 40 involved women killing men. Of those, only 29 involved firearms, with 24 of the 29 involving handguns. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2019, the most recent final data available, are suicide (23,941), homicide (14,414), or fatal unintentional injury (486).

When Men Murder Women is an annual report prepared by the Violence Policy Center detailing the reality of homicides committed by males against females in single victim/single offender incidents. The study analyzes the most recent Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.10 The information used for this report is for the year 2019. Once again, this is the most recent data available. This is the first analysis of the 2019 data on female homicide victims to offer breakdowns of cases in the 10 states with the highest female victim/male offender homicide rates, and the first to rank the states by these rates.

This study examines only those instances involving one female homicide victim and one male offender. This is the exact scenario—the lone male attacker and the vulnerable woman—that is often used to promote gun ownership among women.

This is the 24th edition of When Men Murder Women. From 1996 to 2019, the rate of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents dropped from 1.57 per 100,000 females in 1996 to 1.18 per 100,000 females in 2019, a decrease of 25 percent (see graph below). Since reaching its low of 1.08 in 2014, the rate has increased, with 2019’s rate of 1.18 up nine percent since 2014.

The data presented over the years in When Men Murder Women coincide with the passage and implementation of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as well as the enactment of federal laws restricting firearms possession by persons with misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence or who are subject to certain protective orders for domestic violence. Unfortunately, the Violence Against Women Act expired on February 15, 2019. On March 17, 2021, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize VAWA (H.R. 1620). The bill prohibits the possession of firearms by those convicted of misdemeanor stalking and prohibits convicted abusers of current or former dating partners from purchasing or owning firearms. It would also require the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to notify law enforcement of background check denials related to domestic violence or stalking.

Since the passage of these laws, domestic violence has increasingly been treated as the serious problem that it is. States have also reformed their laws to better protect victims of domestic abuse and remove firearms from persons with histories of domestic violence.

In 2019, there were 1,795 females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report.11 The key findings of this study, expanded upon in the following sections, dispel many of the myths regarding the nature of lethal violence against females.

  • For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 91 percent of female victims (1,476 out of 1,622) were murdered by a male they knew.
  • Ten times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,476 victims) than were killed by male strangers (146 victims).
  • For victims who knew their offenders, 62 percent (915) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.12
  • There were 303 women shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during the course of an argument.
  • Nationwide, for homicides in which the weapon could be determined (1,566), more female homicides were committed with firearms (58 percent) than with all other weapons combined. Knives and other cutting instruments accounted for 19 percent of all female murders, bodily force 10 percent, and murder by blunt object five percent. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 65 percent were committed with handguns.
  • In 85 percent of all incidents where the circumstances could be determined, homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.

The study also analyzes available information on the murders of Black females. Not surprisingly, these homicides mirror the trends for females overall: most homicides against Black females are not committed by strangers, but by males known to the victims.


Back to Table of Contents

Next – Section One: National Data


1 See for example, Shannan Catalano, Ph.D., et al., “Female Victims of Violence,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2009.

2 An intimate partner or intimate acquaintance is defined as a spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or girlfriend/boyfriend.

3 Leonard J. Paulozzi et al., “Surveillance for Homicide Among Intimate Partners—United States, 1981-1998,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Surveillance Summaries 50 (October 12, 2001): 1-16.

4 Deborah Azrael and David Hemenway, “‘In the Safety of Your Own Home’: Results from a National Survey on Gun Use at Home,” Social Science & Medicine 50 (2000): 285-291.

5 Diane Craven, “Sex Differences in Violence Victimization, 1994,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997).

6 Garen Wintemute et al., “Increased Risk of Intimate Partner Homicide Among California Women Who Purchased Handguns,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41, no. 2 (2003): 282.

7 Douglas Wiebe, “Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated with Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study,” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41, no. 6 (2003): 775.

8 K.M. Grassel et al., “Association Between Handgun Purchase and Mortality from Firearm Injury,” Injury Prevention 9 (2003): 50.

9 In 2019, justifiable homicides involving women killing men occurred in: Arkansas (1); Arizona (1); California (2); Colorado (1); Georgia (1); Illinois (3); Indiana (3); Louisiana (1); Maryland (1); Missouri (1); Nevada (5); South Carolina (2); South Dakota (1); Tennessee (4); Texas (9); Virginia (3); and, Washington (1). In 2019, justifiable homicides involving women killing men with a firearm occurred in: Arkansas (1); Arizona (1); California (1); Georgia (1); Illinois (2); Indiana (2); Louisiana (1); Missouri (1); Nevada (5); South Carolina (2); South Dakota (1); Tennessee (3); Texas (6); and, Virginia (2). Of these, handguns were used in: Arkansas (1); California (1); Georgia (1); Illinois (2); Indiana (1); Louisiana (1); Missouri (1); Nevada (3); South Carolina (2); South Dakota (1); Tennessee (2); Texas (6); and, Virginia (2).

10 The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects basic information on serious crimes from participating police agencies and records supplementary information about the circumstances of homicides in its unpublished Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). Submitted monthly, supplementary data consist of: the age, sex, race, and ethnicity of both victims and offenders; the types of weapons used; the relationship of victims to offenders; and, the circumstances of the murders. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, supplementary data are provided on only a subset of homicide cases. Additionally, SHR data are updated throughout the year as homicide reports are forwarded by state UCR programs.

11 In 2019, as in years past, the state of Florida did not submit any data to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report. Also in 2019, data from Alabama were not available from the FBI. Data from Florida and Alabama were not requested individually because the difference in collection techniques would create a bias in the study results.

12 A female intimate acquaintance is defined as a wife, common-law wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend.