An official at the U.S. Department of Justice is warning of an increase in domestic violence due to the wave of recent gun-buying spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, echoing concerns advocates have raised for weeks.
“A recent surge in gun sales has increased already rising concerns among those of us working to protect people from domestic violence and sexual assault due to the already tense situations that may become more dangerous with a (new) firearm in the house,” Laura L. Rogers, the acting director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, wrote in a statement posted to the DOJ’s website.
It appears that domestic violence incidents are surging worldwide as isolation orders, seen as vital to protect public health, create dangerous situations for those threatened by intimate partner violence.
Gun sales in the U.S. ballooned in March — one industry analyst suggested sales were up 85% year-over-year — and concerns about intimate partner violence soon followed.
In the U.S., more than half of female victims of intimate partner homicide are killed with a gun. A July 2019 study found a higher rate of firearm ownership is associated with a higher rate of domestic violence homicide.
“The recent surge is particularly concerning when we think about the context of these sales,” Aaron Kivisto, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis and an author of the July 2019 study, wrote in an email. “We know that guns increase the risk of partner violence turning fatal in typical times, and I would expect that the sort of atypicality we’re living in right now would only compound these risks.”
Weapons should be locked away and guidelines from the National Rifle Association suggest that guns should be stored unloaded, DOJ’s Rogers writes. Rogers was unavailable for an interview before this story was published.
“It’s certainly not par for the course to see the DOJ so clearly linking guns and partner violence,” Kivisto wrote. “On the one hand, it’s commendable that the evidence is driving this guidance. On the other, one wonders if this is like closing the barnyard door after the horse is out given that more than 2.5 million new guns entered American households in March.”
David Keck, director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms, which receives funding from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, said he was glad to see Rogers’ guidance published on a Justice Department website.
“Victims of domestic violence are frequently coercively controlled by having a firearm in the home,” Keck said. “Right now there is a heightened concern about what is going on in homes all around the world, to be honest with you, not just in this country. We are concerned that people not only are not able to remove themselves from an abusive environment, but that they’re not reporting it, either.”
A country largely shut down due to a pandemic, DOJ’s Rogers notes, is a new world for us all.
“These safety tips may seem obvious, but in a crisis our brain doesn’t always work the way it normally does when we are calm,” she wrote. “Making sure a gun is unloaded and locked away can help protect us during stressful moments.”
If you or a friend need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
If you’re hard of hearing you can email:
or videocall 855-812-1001
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.