A c a l l f o r E q u a l i t y i n v i o l e n c e
Because we cannot seem to find it anywhere else.
Ambiguity and strategic language have long been used as means to avoid practical solutions for national issues such as domestic terrorism and domestic violence. But how, as a nation, can we possibly allow for indecision in regards to the definition of murder, rape, and assault? The flimsy and ambivalent approach to safety and justice must be abandoned and the correlation between men who own guns and commit sexual violence must be addressed. Complacency with insecure gun laws encourages violence against women and offers evidence of rampant and institutionalized hegemonic masculinity in the United States, at both the state and national level.
This is exemplified in the Lautenberg Amendment of 1996, in which the US Department of Justice made an attempt to mitigate gun violence when it enacted a firearms ban on those who had committed misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. However, as defined in the U.S. Attorney’s manual, the definition of “domestic violence” limits a potential offender to one who is
“a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”
Often referred to as the infamous “boyfriend loophole,” this definition clearly fails to address people in sexual relationships who do not live together, and literally contradicts the US Department of Justice’s definition of domestic violence which addresses that “domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.”
The idea of only certain types of only domestic violence being worthy of a firearms ban is yet another example of women’s rights being disregarded in an attempt to appease men. The severity of domestic violence has little to do with the status of the relationship in which it takes place; a 17-year-old boy sexually assaulting his high school girlfriend is just as dangerous as a 42-year-old man hitting his wife, so where is the justification in only one of them being banned from buying a gun? Can we really expect women and girls to feel safe when they report domestic violence if there is a chance that their abusers can retain their rights buy firearms, or keep those which they may already own? Or does the government suggest that women find safety in silence so that weapon sales can contribute to the economy, and men can feel superior, and violence can continue to be portrayed as surprising and rare?
Unfortunately, violence is not rare. And the relationship between gun violence and domestic violence is undeniable. Roughly 300,000,000 guns are in circulation in the United States, and the Gun Violence Archive reports that there have already been 52,896 gun incidents in 2017 (as of November 9). While only one-third of sexual assaults are reported, one could estimate that nearly 945,589 occur in the average year. Of those that are reported, 57% involve white men, who just happen to be the majority of gun owners. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 16% of victims report that their abusers had access to firearms at the time of abuse and “67% believed her/his abuser was capable of killing her/him.” That said, there is fair evidence to assume that the remaining 84% who did not own a gun at the time of assault or abuse would have been likely to purchase a gun after assaulting or abusing their intimate partners. The NCADV elaborates that between 2008-2013, 44% of mass shootings involved intimate partners, and 48.6% of women killed by intimate partners were of dating status.
As the laws are currently enforced, the federal government offers more protection for abusive and violent men than for women who are made victims. Perhaps the problem is a reliance on statistics which struggle to accurately portray the scope of domestic violence. Emotional and sexual trauma is more easily covered up than a bullet wound, after all. Maybe the problem is the lazy regulation of firearm distribution which has led to there being nearly enough guns for every man, woman and child in the United States to obtain one. Or maybe the problem is the societal and institutionalized belief that men somehow deserve to be armed and protected by personal weapons, and that women deserve to comply and simply hope that they do not end up in a dangerous situation.
Every time there is a shooting without a legislative response, the gender hierarchy is further enforced and men (particularly white, middle-to-upper-class men) are propelled even further to the top of the system. Every time there is a shooting related to domestic violence without a legislative response, there is a woman who becomes more afraid of reporting her own abusive situation. The result is a form of gendered oppression in which women are subject to surrender their safety so that gun owners can continue to accumulate weaponry.
Serious matters must have serious consequences, but at this point, government officials at both the state and federal level have failed to respond in productive and necessary ways. As a student at a diverse and competitive community college, I cannot help but feel disheartened when people who have the power to enable my peers and me instead choose to enact and uphold legislation that both reinforces our subordinate position in society and puts us in physical, sexual, and emotional danger. At 18 years old, I have seen friends affected by sexual assault. These instances should have been reported but, like so many others, were not. If sexual assault was treated with more gravity, the girls who were victimized would have reported their situations and could have potentially decreased the chances of their abusers harming more people in the future, whether through sexual violence or armed violence. Women make up over half of the US population and must be given the ability to thrive in a safe and empowering environment. So long as guns are given more protection than girls, innocent mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, and loved ones will pay the price.