Women Should Be at Vanguard of the Gun-Control Movement

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The mass shooting at a school in Texas on May 18 brought renewed calls for stricter gun-control laws. This focus should  include another, less-visible, aspect of the crisis: The killing by firearms of hundreds of women each year by their intimate partners.

It’s clear that gun control is a women’s issue. Of the 39,000 gun deaths in America In 2016, 456 were from mass shootings. But, on average, more than 561 women are killed by these weapons each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, common-law husbands or boyfriends, according to the Associated Press.

Women in the U.S. are rarely the perpetrators of gun violence, and they are 11 times more likely to be shot by an intimate partner than women in other countries. In addition, guns are the weapons most frequently used by men to kill them. When women experience domestic violence, the presence of a gun increases their risk of being murdered by 500 percent. And women own fewer guns and support gun-control measures more than men.

That’s why they should be at the forefront of the campaign intensified by the recent spate of mass killings. A new movement could further empower successful groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots organization founded after the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, that is active in 50 states and has representatives in every state capitol. (Moms Demand also gained the support of Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg.) 

The women’s march after President Donald Trump’s election showed they are capable of uniting around a cause. The results of this groundswell aren’t yet fully clear, but the fury with the Trump administration has led to an unprecedented number of female candidates for office. And past movements prove that women get results when they join together. Advocacy by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, for example, helped bring about national legislation reducing the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers and dozens of other legislative changes. And the recent #MeToo movement, which has toppled media and business executives and politicians for sexual misconduct, shows the power of women to hold men accountable for their behavior.

Male (and female) politicians who don’t support and advocate for gun reform should be similarly publicly shamed. One of the most effective ways to change behavior is to make it socially unacceptable. In “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen,” Kwame Anthony Appiah credits shaming with helping end other odious practices against women around the world, like foot-binding in China and honor killings in Pakistan.

If American women started articulating their outrage every time politicians attributed shootings to factors other than guns or contented themselves with offering their prayers without backing gun reform, lawmakers would be forced to listen. Take Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who said that one of the biggest contributors to massacres was the excessive number of doors in schools, which allows would-be shooters to enter and exit without being stopped. If women started speaking up as group, this kind of stance wouldn’t be politically tenable.

Women make up more than half of the U.S. population and vote slightly more than men. Politicians who don’t support gun reform wouldn’t be able to stay in power if women became one-issue voters in the same way as National Rifle Association adherents who refuse any curbs.

Women have both the motive and the opportunity to change laws. Now we need to come together to make clear that all of the past excuses politicians have given for inaction aren’t acceptable anymore.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.