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The United States experiences epidemic levels of gun violence, claiming over 30,000 lives annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every person  who dies from a gunshot wound, two others are wounded. In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour.  From Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Does that take your breath away? It does mine.

Would you suspect that gender makes a difference in the gun debate? Nothing you hear or read may have raised the issue, so likely you’ve not thought about it. So far, all the discussion of the gun debate sounds like we are all affected in the same way. “People with guns … people who own guns … subjecting people to background checks … limiting people’s gun rights …”  Our public discussion is always cast in terms of “people,” as if both genders are equally implicated in all aspects of guns.

It’s simply not true. The furor over a ban on assault rifles, Second Amendment rights, the NRA and background checks means something very different to you depending on your gender. Whether you are a man or a woman changes how guns figure in your life. You’ll be surprised at just how much.

For starters, the U.S. is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but owns 50 percent of the world’s firearms.  (This does not include military weapons, nor those used by law enforcement personnel.) Estimates vary but most sources agree there are probably at least 300 million guns in the U.S.,  probably enough to arm every man, woman and child here. Most gun owners are men. Nearly half of all men in the U.S. own one or more guns. Remarkably, only 10 percent of women do.  So, gun owners are predominantly male, and most gun-owning men own more than one. Gun ownership is a man’s issue.

The issues surrounding gun ownership, therefore, will have a greater impact on men. The extent of gun rights afforded under the Constitution’s Second Amendment will affect millions more men. So do regulations like background checks, restricting certain kinds of  weapons or high capacity magazines – all gun control measures currently being considered. All the money changing hands between manufacturers, sellers and buyers, as well as money used to influence regulations between  pro-gun lobbying groups and elected officials, will end up, almost exclusively, enriching men. Gun regulation is a man’s issue.

That can amount to quite a lot of cash. Last month, Zach Anderson of Policymic wrote “During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level on messages advocating for or against political candidates.”  Most political candidates are men, as are the vast majority of the members of the U.S. Congress, not to mention state legislators and governors as well. Women don’t figure much in the production, regulation, use and ownership of guns. So, when you hear these issues discussed, just remember they will affect men’s behavior almost exclusively.

Now let’s look at the receiving end of the barrel. Women are disproportionately affected by guns because they are the vast majority of domestic violence victims.  A woman is more likely to be shot with a gun than she is to own one. Gun violence is a woman’s issue.

To get some perspective, let’s start with this from the Huffington Post:

  • Number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614:
  • Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the U.S.: 11,766.

Living in the U.S. makes it more likely that a woman will be shot than anywhere else in the world. Of all the women shot with a firearm globally, 86 percent are in the U.S.

Futures Without Violence  states that  the majority of women killed are killed by guns. Further, having a gun for protection does not even the odds as much as you’d think. In 1998, for every one woman who used a handgun to kill an intimate acquaintance in self-defense, 83 women were murdered by an intimate acquaintance using a handgun.

From the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence, we learn:

  • Of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners. The number of females shot and killed by their husbands or intimate partners was more than three times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents in 2002.
  • American women who are killed by their intimate partners are more likely to be killed with guns than by all other methods combined.
  • Access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in the risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse, according to a recent study, suggesting that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners. A study of women physically abused by current or former intimate partners found a five-fold increased risk of the partner murdering the woman when the partner owned a gun.

So take a minute, the next time you hear gun control discussed on the news or read about it in the paper, and ask yourself – which end of the gun is it about? And  whose finger is on the trigger?

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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