Mar 14 1:00 PM

6 things you need to know about domestic homicide in the U.S.

Marge Putnam was killed by her husband in 2012 after she made plans to leave him.
Singeli Agnew for Al Jazeera America

Friday, March 14th, at 9:30p ET, our latest Fault Lines episode, “Death in Plain Sight,” airs on Al Jazeera America.

In it, Fault Lines investigates the epidemic of domestic violence homicide, and whether weak laws are putting women's lives at risk.

Join us as we livetweet this episode Friday from our main Twitter account, @ajfaultlines, along with episode producer, Cassandra Herrman (@CassandraH).

Read the backgrounder below to get up to speed on the issues covered in the film.

Having a Gun in the House Doesn't Make a Woman Safer,” The Atlantic, February 23, 2014

It has long been recognized that higher rates of gun availability correlate with higher rates of female homicide. Women in the United States account for 84 percent of all female firearm victims in the developed world, even though they make up only a third of the developed world’s female population. And within American borders, women die at higher rates from suicide, homicide, and accidental firearm deaths in states where guns are more widely available. This is true even after controlling for factors such as urbanization, alcohol use, education, poverty, and divorce rates.  


What’s more surprising is how many of these deaths occur in the home, at the hands of a male partner. In a study in the Journal of Trauma, A.L. Kellermann, director of the RAND Institute of health, and his coauthor J.A. Mercy concluded: “More than twice as many women are killed with a gun used by their husbands or intimate acquaintances than are murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means.”

In another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers interviewed 417 women across 67 battered women’s shelters. Nearly a third of these women had lived in a household with a firearm. In two-thirds of the homes, their intimate partners had used the gun against them, usually threatening to kill (71.4%) them. A very small percentage of these women (7%) had used a gun successfully in self-defense, and primarily just to scare the attacking male partner away. Indeed, gun threats in the home against women by their intimate partners appear to be more common across the United States than self-defense uses of guns by women.

Study: Repealing Missouri’s background check law associated with a murder spike,” The Washington Post’s GovBeat blog, February 18, 2014

The 2007 repeal of a Missouri law that required background checks and licenses for all handgun owners  appears to be associated with a significant increase in murders there, a new study finds.

The law’s repeal was correlated with a 23 percent spike in firearm homicide rates, or an additional 55 to 63 murders annually from 2008 to 2012, according to the study conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and to be published in the Journal of Urban Health.

“This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the study’s lead author, said in a news release. “There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed.”

Men killing women: SC ranks 1st, again,” The State, September 25, 2013

South Carolina once again has been ranked the worst in the nation when it comes to men killing women.

The state’s rate of females murdered by males of 2.54 per 100,000 was more than double the national average, according to a report released Tuesday by the Violence Policy Center in Washington. The ranking was based on 2011 crime data that showed 61 women in South Carolina were reported killed at the hands of men.

The ranking brought another round of outrage and vows for a renewed push to change the trend.

One idea offered by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is changing a law that puts a cap on the size of a bond that magistrate judges can set for criminal domestic violence suspects.

Bail bonds already are an issue in Richland County after The State newspaper reported cases in which men who were released to await trials for violent crimes were re-arrested on murder charges.

In South Carolina, the maximum bond for a first-time criminal domestic violence arrest is $5,000, Wilson said. That means a man arrested for beating his wife can get out of jail for $500 or less, Wilson said.

The study focused on — a popular classified site similar to that facilitates private sales of firearms and ammunition based on location — and analyzed listings in 10 states where senators voted against a background-check compromise this spring.

At any given time, more than 15,000 guns were for sale in those states, according to the study, and more than 5,000 of them were semi-automatic weapons. Nearly 2,000 ads were from prospective buyers asking to purchase specifically from private sellers, where no background checks are required.

“At this point, this is the biggest loophole in the background check system,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics at Third Way, an organization that has been active in the gun-control movement for years. 

A Raised Hand,” The New Yorker, July 22, 2013 (pdf via Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center)

The risk of homicide unfolded on a timeline, spiking when a victim attempted to leave an abuser, or when there was a change in the situation at home—a pregnancy, a new job. The danger remained high for three months after a couple split, dipped slightly for the next nine, and dropped significantly after a year. [Jacquelyn] Campbell identified twenty risk factors for homicide, which she used to develop what she called a Danger Assessment tool. Some risk factors were obvious: substance abuse, gun ownership, a record of violence. Others were more specific: forced sex, threats to kill, choking. The sole demographic factor Campbell identified was chronic unemployment; poverty alone is not a risk factor. Campbell then devised a weighted scale based on the risk indicators. A score of eighteen or more represented extreme danger; fourteen to seventeen was severe; eight to thirteen indicated increased danger; and anything less than eight signified variable danger.

In Some States, Gun Rights Trump Orders of Protection,” The New York Times, March 17, 2013

Advocates for domestic violence victims have long called for stricter laws governing firearms and protective orders. Their argument is rooted in a grim statistic: when women die at the hand of an intimate partner, that hand is more often than not holding a gun.

In these most volatile of human dramas, they contend, the right to bear arms must give ground to the need to protect a woman’s life.

In statehouses across the country, though, the N.R.A. and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations. They argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction — and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the “mere issuance of court orders.” 


Tune in to the latest episode of Fault Lines, “Death in Plain Sight,” premiering Friday, March 14, at 9:30p ET, and airing again Saturday, March 15, at 5p ET.  


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