Over a week ago, I attended President Pelton’s gun violence panel “Whose Right Is It, Anyway?” at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre. The speakers differed on partisanship and perspective, but one viewpoint that was notably missing from the conversation was a woman’s.
Both the absence of representation among the panelists and the omission of a discussion about how women are affected by gun violence provides a lack of understanding of the issue as a whole. Gun violence does not just exist in the halls of classrooms in middle-class Connecticut. It exists in urban homes where women and children remain vulnerable at the hands of abusers who use these types of weapons to manipulate and to kill.
Despite the presence of WGBH’s Emily Rooney as a moderator for the panel, her voice neglected to bring a female perspective. At no point did she use her unique input influenced by her gender to supplement the conversation or reflect on how gun violence encompasses issues that affect women on a daily basis.
This week, Donna P. Hall, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network, an organization that helps women inject their voices in demands for change, published an editorial in the Huffington Post. The organization recently held an event that brought together more than 100 women leaders to Washington, D.C. to talk about the crucial role women play in changing the social, legal, and political reality of gun violence.
At this convention, they presented the first women-focused poll on gun violence, which shows a clear gender divide on how these leaders view the problem with a 21-point gap proving that women put a lesser importance on gun rights over safety within their communities.
In the same poll, statistics found that women see the solution to this problem differently than men, showing that they placed a greater emphasis on mental illness treatment and care, anti-bullying campaigns in schools, and counseling for troubled youths.
Although many audience members asked impassioned questions during the panel, I was shocked that among the valid outrage over a lack of a discussion about racial and socio-economic diversity, it went unacknowledged how much gun violence affects women and their differing perspective on this issue. The words “domestic violence” were used only in passing by one panelist, Jack McDevitt, associate dean at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice. This is despite the fact that domestic violence heightens the risk of, and often ends with, homicide in cases where guns are in the home.
On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their significant others in the United States every day, according to a recent commission by the American Bar Association. Access to firearms increases the risk of domestic homicide more than five times compared to instances where there is no access to this type of weapon.
Due to the national prevalence of domestic violence homicide and the impact of greater accessibility to firearms on these statistics, I find it troubling that efforts meant to create awareness around gun violence excludes such a significant demographic like gender.
The presence of guns are so tied to intimate partner homicide, Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment in 1996, which prohibits anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor for domestic violence from shipping, transporting, owning, or using guns or ammunition. This law also prohibits the sale or gift of firearms to the offenders, and does not exempt those who work with firearms like police or military personnel.
Eighteen states have followed suit and created laws that authorize police officers to remove these guns from the home when responding. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow courts to order a removal of firearms from homes where a civil protection order is requested. Eleven states have both these laws, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in October of 2009.
This study shows that 23 states refuse to put into place the aforementioned practices which help prevent homicides, and even the states with these laws in place have vague and ambiguous language like the police “may” remove guns, rather than “must” or “should,” which make these laws hard to enforce. An inefficiency of the current laws to protect survivors should press the public to understand the prevalence of domestic violence and how political policies play into this issue.
By including voices and viewpoints representative of this issue on interrelated issues like gun control, we are creating a generation that no longer sees domestic violence as a “woman’s issue,” but rather as a subset of the greater issue of violence that plagues our society. I believe that if Emerson wants to create an open and honest discussion on the issue, more X chromosomes need to be invited to the bargaining table for future panels on this issue.