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Higher gun ownership rates are associated with higher rates of domestic gun homicides — especially for women

U.S. states with higher rates of gun ownership had higher rates of gun deaths of intimate partners and family members over a more than 15-year period, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on Monday, July 22. Women made up a disproportionate number of intimate partner gun deaths.

“Our findings highlight the importance of firearm removal in protecting victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women," study leader Aaron J. Kivisto of the School of Psychological Science at the University of Indianapolis said in a statement.

Kivisto and colleagues analyzed household gun ownership, homicide rate, and other data spanning from 1990 through 2016. They culled these data from a variety of sources, including the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, US Census, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Previous studies had shown an association between gun ownership and gun homicide rates, but suggested that it could differ depending on the relationship between the offender and the victim. The new study investigated whether this was the case by determining whether there were links between gun ownership and domestic gun homicide—homicides of intimate partners or family members—and non-domestic gun homicide.

Average rates of household gun ownership varied vastly from state to state during the study time period—from 10.4% in Hawaii to 68.8% in Wyoming—with higher rates in the South and West, and lower rates in the Northeast. The researchers saw an association between gun ownership and domestic, but not non-domestic, gun homicide rates. Specifically, they saw a 13% jump in domestic gun homicide for every 10% increase in household gun ownership rates, Elsevier reports.

States with the highest quartile of gun ownership had a 64.6% higher rate of domestic gun homicide than those in the lowest quartile. Southern states, with high rates of gun ownership, ranked high in domestic gun homicide rates, while northeastern states, with low rates of gun ownership, ranked low.

Although gun ownership rates were associated with higher rates of domestic gun homicide involving both male and female victims, the researchers saw a definite gender difference in intimate partner gun homicide victims. Despite accounting for an average of 22.4% of gun homicide victims, female victims made up a whopping 72.2% of intimate partner gun homicides during the timeframe analyzed in the study. In the study, the researchers wrote that several statistics indicate that women comprise the majority of domestic homicide victims.

“That follows the demographic of partner violence more broadly,” says Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University who wasn’t involved in the study. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that 76% percent of domestic violence victims were women, while just 24% were men.

In fact, Metzl tells Mic, the new study reaffirms what several other studies have already shown. “Yet again this study calls on the need to take the risk of having a gun in the home seriously,” he says. Indeed, gun rights advocates often point to gun ownership as a means of protection from intruders, but the new study suggests that keeping a gun in the home actually poses a risk to gun owners’ loved ones, Kivisto told Elsevier.

Metzl adds that the new study also highlights the importance of interventions such as red flag laws, which allow for the state court-ordered temporary removal of guns from people who may endanger themselves or others. (In the study, the researchers noted that despite the existence of federal legislation design to curtail domestic gun homicides—such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the Gun Control Act of 1968—there has been little enforcement of them, leading many states to enact their own legislation.)

States with laws that bar those with a risk of committing intimate partner violence from owning guns and require them to surrender any guns they already have, such as California and Illinois, show a lower incidence of domestic gun homicide. In one study, such laws were associated with 10% decreases in intimate partner homicides. Nonetheless, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is engaged in efforts to stymie red flag laws, as Metzl wrote about in a recent VICE story.

“In an ideal world, cutting-edge research would combine with bipartisan political initiatives,” Metzl says. But that hasn’t been the case with gun violence, encapsulating how it's not only a public health issue, but a political one. “All the research in the world doesn’t make a difference it we’re not willing to make some hard choices that balance that rights of gun ownership with getting guns out of the hands of people in high risk situations.”