YWCA is committed to ensuring that our communities are safe places for women and girls to thrive. However, as headlines and research make clear, gun violence is a major threat to their health and safety. From the Walmart in El Paso, to the streets of Dayton, the hallways of Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary, to the social venues of the Las Vegas country music festival and the Pulse nightclub, to homes and communities across the country, women experience unacceptably high levels of gun violence that leaves them at heightened risk of harm and death.

Women’s encounters with gun violence not only include mass shootings but are also inextricably linked to domestic violence. Some 4.5 million women in the United States have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner, and nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner. In an average month, 50 women in the U.S. are shot to death by intimate partners, and many more are injured. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.

The connections between domestic violence and mass shootings are alarming. Many mass shootings in the U.S. — those in which four or more individuals are killed — are related to domestic violence: shooters killed intimate partners or other family members in at least 54% of mass shootings. While women are victims of 15% of all gun violence, they make up 50 percent of victims in mass shootings.

Even when strangers are targeted instead of family members, there are connections between mass shootings and domestic violence: The shooters in one third of the 46 mass shootings that took place entirely in public between 2009 and 2016 had a history of violence against women. Moreover, in 42% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, the shooter exhibited warning signs that they posed a danger to themselves or others, and one-third of mass shooters were prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The significant links between mass shootings and intimate partner violence, and the disparate impacts of gun violence on women are too often overlooked in the public narrative about gun violence. To decrease gun violence for women and girls, YWCA USA and YWCA Billings endorse the following policies:

  • Keep guns out of the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence, stalking, and other intimate partner violence.
  • Prohibit those convicted of domestic violence and stalking from obtaining firearms, as well as those subject to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking restraining orders.
  • Ensure that abusers and stalkers subject to a restraining order relinquish all firearms once they are prohibited.
  • Establish mandatory registration requirements, so that law enforcement and courts can more effectively identify when abusers and stalkers have firearms that should be confiscated.
  • Oppose “concealed carry reciprocity” legislation, which would enable abusers to carry firearms across state lines into states that prohibit “concealed carry.”
  • Eliminate access to semi-automatic weapons.
  • Ban the sale and possession of assault weapons, high capacity gun magazines (those with a capacity of more than 10 cartridges), and bump stocks.
  • More tightly enforce laws on straw purchases of weapons, and limits on how many guns can be purchased in a month.
  • Strengthen methods for screening and removing firearms from individuals who pose a significant risk of danger to others.
  • Establish and enforce gun violence restraining orders — red flag restraining orders / extreme risk protective orders.
  • Improve background checks. Require universal background checks for all gun sales.
  • Ensure all necessary records are updated in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Hold states and federal agencies accountable for accurately reporting records to the NICS database.
  • Increase training and technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions to improve firearm removal and storage.
  • Carefully distinguish between individuals who are mentally unwell or experiencing a crisis and may pose a safety threat from those who are mentally ill yet do not pose any increased risk of violence.

Our congressional representatives have varying thoughts on what should be done to address gun violence. We respect their right to their opinions, but the magnitude of this issue requires that they work together and with their sisters and brothers in Congress to achieve realistic solutions as quickly as possible. Please urge them to take meaningful action.

People of all genders and ages — including those in Billings, Missoula, Kalispell, Great Falls, Bozeman, Helena or anywhere under the Big Sky — are just as exposed as those who have already been taken by the unspeakable tragedies that have already occurred.

Please join YWCA in advocating for change — now!

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Merry Lee Olson is the CEO of YWCA Billings, which collaborates with YWCA USA.