Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence
Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign
In May the world learned of a tragic incident which has become all too common in our newspapers and on our televisions. Angered by a bitter divorce and upset at the sale of their house, a 61 year old man shot dead his estranged wife and step-daughter before turning the gun on himself. What made this story surprising to many people was not the scenario itself, but rather where it took place.
Few would have immediately guessed that this shooting was the latest in a history of gun violence unfolding in Norway, where more than 80 women have been killed by their partner or their ex-partner since 2000. Roughly one third of these were murdered with a gun. Around the world, it is easier to be banned from driving than to be banned from possessing a firearm. For many women, this significantly heightens their risk of violent death and injury. This danger affects rich countries as well as those emerging from conflict or suffering from extreme poverty. Norway has approximately 1.3 million legally held firearms, spread across approximately 500,000 licenses – overwhelmingly in the hands of men.
This case in Norway reminds us that no community is immune from the problem of domestic abuse, and the power of a gun to make it lethal. In France and South Africa, one in three women killed by their husbands is shot; in the USA this rises to two in three. Domestic shootings usually involve legal firearms, and women’s risk of being killed by an intimate partner triples when a gun is in the home. Contrary to popular belief, a gun in the home is much more likely to be used to intimidate or physically injure family members than be used against an outside intruder.
This week is the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence, and events are being held in 85
countries to draw attention to the human toll of small arms proliferation and misuse. In particular, women around the world are taking action through the Disarming Domestic Violence campaign led by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Disarming Domestic Violence is the first international campaign to protect women from gun violence in the home. The main goal is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, and has their license revoked.
Australia, Canada, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago are among the handful of countries that have harmonised their legal frameworks on gun licensing and on domestic violence. This means the gun law prohibits ownership by domestic violence offenders, and the domestic violence law requires the removal of guns. Through the Disarming Domestic Violence campaign, IANSA members are pushing for this harmonisation to be replicated in many more countries. At a minimum, police should be required to consult the spouse or former spouse before approving a gun license application. This is crucial because in many cases, the man who kills a woman has previously threatened or committed violence, without coming to the notice of police
The goal is ambitious, but recent successes demonstrate that such changes are possible. Several countries have reformed their gun laws over the past decade and have begun to see the benefits, especially for women. In Canada, spousal notification is already the norm, and any concern by the spouse is investigated. The Canadian government has also established the “spousal notification” telephone information line. This is a toll-free number that a spouse can call to express any concerns about an applicant, or report any alleged crimes that may not be in the legal records. Similarly, in Australia and South Africa weapons are removed from persons who are subject to a restraining order for domestic violence.
Moreover, these laws are making a real difference and reducing gun deaths. Canada tightened its gun laws in 1995. By 2003, the gun murder rate dropped by 15 per cent overall, and by 40 per cent for women. Australia overhauled its gun law in 1996. Five years later, the average gun murder rate was 45 per cent lower than it had been before the reforms. Again, the effect was more pronounced for women. Canada and Australia reformed their gun laws more than a decade ago, but few countries have followed, despite these successes. More women will be protected if other countries respond in a similar way with gun laws that take domestic violence into account.
These shootings are so often preventable, if the policymakers and police respect the knowledge and instinct of those closest to the gunmen.. The daughter of this Norwegian gunman had earlier contacted the police, concerned that her father might commit suicide with one of his many guns. The police confiscated two unlicensed shotguns, but made no effort to remove the other shotgun and four rifles that were registered to him, even though he told them where they were stored. Apparently – and illogically – these weapons were considered not to be dangerous, because they were legally owned. Days later three people were dead.
We must all consider how gun violence affects our lives and communities, and demand from our governments and legislators policies and practices to protect women in the home.