Here’s a small glimmer of hope for victims of domestic violence: On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the passage of new legislation that requires convicted domestic abusers to surrender any and all firearms and prohibits them from obtaining or renewing a firearm license.
Though this may seem like common sense, a previous loophole allowed these individuals to still legally obtain a firearm license, even while wanted by the police or subject to an arrest warrant.
This new policy is part of the governor’s 2018 Women’s Agenda, which was unveiled in January with the additional missions of combating sexual harassment and supporting women’s advancement in the workplace, protecting access to contraception and increasing child care funding.
So, what does this mean for women, who are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, and for black women in particular, who are murdered by men at a rate more than twice as high as that of white women? As an oft-quoted 2016 study by the Violence Policy Center (pdf) noted:
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].” ...
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.” ... Moreover, women are much more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.
Cuomo, who is running for re-election this year in a state in which firearms were used in 35 domestic homicides in 2016 (pdf), acknowledged the link between domestic violence and guns, saying: “New York is once again leading the way to prevent gun violence, and with this common sense reform, break the inextricable link between gun violence and domestic violence. This legislation builds on our gun laws—already the strongest in the nation—to make New York safer and stronger.”
Presumably, restricting known domestic abusers’ access to firearms should drive down the number of domestic violence deaths and attacks involving guns. But this works only if the firearms in question are registered in the first place. What it does do is put stronger repercussions in place for abusers in possession of firearms, as well as give victims of domestic abuse more ammunition (no pun intended) against their abusers, should a victim be aware of firearms in the abuser’s possession.
Tellingly, New York’s new legislation cites the fact that nine of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in American history have been committed by shooters with a history of “committing violence against women, threatening violence against women, or harassing or disparaging women. In addition, when an abusive partner is permitted to access firearms, the risk that the other partner will be killed increases fivefold.”
But lest we think the answer lies solely in removing guns from abusers, the Violence Policy Center’s study also suggests that guns in general pose a risk to women—even when they themselves are the owners of firearms:
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.” 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. 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.
New York has now passed the strongest gun control laws in the nation, becoming the first state to make a direct legislative link between gun violence and domestic violence. It joins Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island in independently enacting stricter gun laws in recent months.
While this revolutionary move is part of the governor’s Women’s Agenda, Cuomo also linked the lack of gun control to the increasing number of mass shootings that have occurred in recent years, saying, “[T]he federal government’s failure to act on any form of meaningful gun safety laws is unconscionable.”