October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As communities around the country continue to reel from tragic mass shootings, we are reminded that gun violence also threatens the safety of abuse victims every day.
The strong and often lethal intersection between gun violence and domestic abuse deserves increased attention in the debate around gun safety legislation. The mere presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of lethality for women by 500 percent — yet, in states that require a background check for every handgun purchase, 38 percent fewer women are killed by their intimate partners. In 2012 alone, 6.6 million guns were purchased without a background check.
To fully combat violence against women in America, Congress must act to strengthen our gun laws. Women in the United States are far more likely to be murdered with guns than they are in any other developed nation. More than half of women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by intimate partners, and more than half of mass shootings are acts of domestic or family violence. This violence is directly related to our weak gun laws — and requiring a background check for every gun sale would reduce violence against women and save lives.
Jewish Women International became passionate about addressing domestic violence when one of our own members was shot and killed by her estranged husband in the parking lot of her place of employment nearly 25 years ago. Her murder spurred our organization to embark on a decades-long campaign to break the silence about domestic abuse in the Jewish community. Gun violence prevention has always been a central element to this work.
The current national dialogue on gun violence gives Congress an opportunity to strengthen our weak gun laws and, by doing so, significantly reduce episodes of violence where a firearm is present. Under the current law, while domestic violence offenders are federally prohibited from possessing firearms, they can easily avoid background checks by purchasing guns through private sellers, at gun shows or online. We know that background checks keep guns out of abusers’ hands. Since its inception in 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has blocked more than two million attempted gun sales to prohibited purchasers.
We believe that as a Jewish community, the issue of gun violence affords us the opportunity and responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable among us and educate our community about the tragic connections between gun violence and violence against women.We must make this issue central to the current gun safety debate as we continue to call on Congress to expand the background check system in order to ensure the safety of the millions of victims of domestic violence and their children.
We must continue to urge Congress to expand the background check system to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals like domestic abusers. It’s time for our lawmakers to revisit this issue and enact meaningful reform.
Lori Weinstein is CEO/executive director of Jewish Women International.