This Change In Law Will Save Women's Lives

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a mom of five. She lives in Colorado. The views expressed are her own.

We’ll never know whose or how many, but countless lives were saved in Rhode Island on Tuesday night. Untold children will be spared the life-altering trauma of losing their mother. Daughters and sisters whose lives may have been cut short will live longer.

That’s because Rhode Island legislators passed a bill requiring convicted domestic abusers to turn in their guns. New research shows that keeping guns away from domestic abusers saves women’s lives, and legislation doing just that is part of a growing trend of red, blue and purple states acting to protect victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

Since I founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America nearly five years ago, volunteers across the country have worked tirelessly to pass laws to help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. In that time, 25 states have passed these life-saving bills. In Rhode Island, Moms Demand Action volunteers spent three years meeting with lawmakers, testifying at hearings, and organizing their communities to support this legislation. And finally, despite strong opposition from the NRA, we won — Rhode Island families won.

Photo by Kevin McClave.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Rhode Island isn’t an anomaly. Just this year, eight states, including Rhode Island, have passed bills to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. The other states – Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah – are almost all states with Republican legislatures or governors. Lawmakers and their voters – the majority of whom are women – know protecting women from armed abusers isn’t partisan: it’s a matter of life and death.

That’s not an exaggeration. If a gun is present in the home of a woman who is being abused, it is five times more likely that the woman will be killed. Every month, more than 50 American women are shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner, like a husband or boyfriend, and more than half of all mass shootings include a victim that’s a family member. In fact, the two deadliest mass shootings so far this year have been related to domestic violence.

If a gun is present in the home of a woman who is being abused, it is five times more likely that the woman will be killed.

Women's lives are at stake, and that makes this a passion point for Moms Demand Action volunteers. We see in domestic abuse victims and survivors our sisters, mothers, friends - sometimes even ourselves. That's why Moms Demand Action volunteers go to statehouses year after year to push for these laws. We're protecting our own.

But just because we’ve won doesn’t mean these fights have been easy. The gun lobby and gun extremists almost always fight fiercely against these bills. In Rhode Island, the NRA opposed legislation requiring domestic abusers to turn in their guns because, “cases of false accusations, while rare, do happen.” Somehow, it always comes down to not believing women.

And while the NRA has proven itself to be more concerned about the condition of guns surrendered by abusers than the safety of domestic abuse victims (seriously), women — who make up only a fraction of our nation's lawmakers — have taken it upon themselves to do the work necessary to support other women and survivors of abuse.

Photo courtesy of Moms Demand Action.
Volunteers with the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action gather at the statehouse.

Moms Demand Action volunteers face sexism and misogyny every day advocating for common sense gun safety, but it only increases our resolve and reminds us why it's so important to keep demanding that women and survivors of gun violence get a seat at the table.

And we’ll keep fighting. Right now in Pennsylvania, legislators are again considering a bill that would make survivors of domestic abuse safer from the threat of an armed abuser. Once again, Moms Demand Action volunteers are loudly supporting it – gathering mayors, law enforcement, and advocates on the front lines of the fight against domestic violence last month in five cities and using their voices to urge the legislature to finally take action.

There is still so much work to be done. But when it comes to protecting our children, our families and our communities from gun violence – moms will never give up.

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