An Analysis of 2020 Homicide Data
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 2020 there were only 384 justifiable homicides committed by private citizens. Of these, only 54 involved women killing men. Of those, only 43 involved firearms, with 33 of the 43 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 2020, the most recent final data available, are suicide (24,292), homicide (19,384), or fatal unintentional injury (535).
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 2020. Once again, this is the most recent data available. This is the first analysis of the 2020 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.
The FBI has made changes in the way it collects and reports crime data that in the short term will drastically reduce the availability of state and local data and deprive researchers access to detailed information that can help prevent gun violence and other crime. In 2021 the FBI stopped collecting detailed crime data from police agencies that are not ready to participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), an updated and expanded version of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) system. While full implementation of NIBRS would be an improvement on the current UCR system, as of March 2021, only 62.6 percent of law enforcement agencies that formerly participated in the UCR program were now submitting their information through the new system.11 Instead of allowing local agencies who missed the deadline to continue to report crime data via the UCR, the FBI is partnering with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to create national estimates to account for the missing information. For the immediate future these changes will severely hobble ongoing efforts, like this VPC series of studies, to understand and prevent gun violence, domestic violence, homicide, and, in fact, all types of violent crime.
This is the 25th edition of When Men Murder Women. From 1996 to 2020, the rate of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents dropped from 1.57 per 100,000 females in 1996 to 1.34 per 100,000 females in 2020, a decrease of 15 percent (see graph on the following page). Since reaching its low of 1.08 in 2014, the rate has increased, with 2020’s rate of 1.34 up 24 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. The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 was passed by Congress as part of the Omnibus appropriations package and signed by President Biden in March 2022. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the package of new gun violence prevention laws passed this year by Congress, expands the prohibition on gun possession by domestic violence misdemeanants to include those in a dating relationship. This prohibition expires after five years if the person is not convicted of another offense. The bill, however, did not extend the prohibited category of persons subject to a final domestic violence protective order to those in a dating relationship.
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 2020, there were 2,059 females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report.12 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, 89 percent of female victims (1,604 out of 1,801) were murdered by a male they knew.
- Eight times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,604 victims) than were killed by male strangers (197 victims).
- For victims who knew their offenders, 60 percent (967) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.13
- There were 298 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 (1,735), more female homicides were committed with firearms (61 percent) than with all other weapons combined. Knives and other cutting instruments accounted for 18 percent of all female murders, bodily force nine percent, and murder by blunt object five percent. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 64 percent were committed with handguns.
- In 88 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.
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Next – Section One: National Data
- See for example, Shannan Catalano, Ph.D., et al., “Female Victims of Violence,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2009.
- An intimate partner or intimate acquaintance is defined as a spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or girlfriend/boyfriend.
- 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.
- 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.
- Diane Craven, “Sex Differences in Violence Victimization, 1994,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997).
- 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.
- 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.
- K.M. Grassel et al., “Association Between Handgun Purchase and Mortality from Firearm Injury,” Injury Prevention 9 (2003): 50.
- In 2020, justifiable homicides involving women killing men occurred in: Alaska (1); Arkansas (4); Arizona (3); California (8); Georgia (1); Illinois (1); Indiana (7); Kentucky (1); Louisiana (2); Maine (1); Maryland (1); Michigan (3); Missouri (1); Nevada (2); North Carolina (1); South Carolina (3); Tennessee (6); Texas (5); Virginia (1); West Virginia (1); and, Wisconsin (1). In 2020, justifiable homicides involving women killing men with a firearm occurred in: Arkansas (3); Arizona (3); California (2); Georgia (1); Illinois (1); Indiana (6); Kentucky (1); Louisiana (2); Maine (1); Maryland (1); Michigan (3); Missouri (1); Nevada (2); North Carolina (1); South Carolina (3); Tennessee (4); Texas (5); Virginia (1); West Virginia (1); and, Wisconsin (1). Of these, handguns were used in: Arkansas (2); Arizona (2); California (2); Illinois (1); Indiana (6); Kentucky (1); Louisiana (2); Maine (1); Maryland (1); Michigan (3); Missouri (1); Nevada (2); North Carolina (1); South Carolina (3); Tennessee (1); Texas (3); and, Virginia (1).
- 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.
- “Thousands of Police Agencies Stop Reporting Crime Data to the FBI,” Newsy, March 31, 2022 (https://www.newsy.com/stories/thousands-of-policedepts-stop-reporting-crime-data-to-fbi/).
- In 2020, as in years past, the state of Florida did not submit any data to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report. Also in 2020, 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.
- A female intimate acquaintance is defined as a wife, common-law wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend.