• Motto

We Need to Do a Better Job of Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of Domestic Abusers

4 minute read

This week, a gunman with a reported history of domestic violence walked into an elementary school classroom in San Bernardino, Calif., and fatally shot his estranged wife, who was a teacher at the school, and an 8-year-old student. He also shot and injured another student and then fatally shot himself. The aftershocks of this tragedy will continue to rock the lives of the educators, students and families of North Park Elementary School, and the friends and families of the victims, for years to come.

Sadly, this is what a Monday can look like in America.

That is partially because America has consented to participate in a very dangerous experiment: watching what happens when there are 300 million guns within our borders governed by too few gun laws. And the shooting on Monday highlights the horrific reality of domestic gun violence against women.

New research shows that 54% of mass shootings involve domestic violence. In fact, American women are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. About 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner in the United States in an average month. And domestic abusers frequently use guns to threaten and control women, even if they never pull the trigger — approximately 4.5 million American women have been threatened with guns.

But rather than promote policies that would keep guns away from dangerous people like domestic abusers, the gun lobby’s proposed solutions to tragedies like the shooting in San Bernardino is to arm domestic abuse victims.

In order to enact real and effective solutions to domestic gun violence, we need to use our voices and votes to demand action from our lawmakers. Too often, Americans rely on thoughts and prayers to do the work our politicians refuse to carry out. And even those platitudes seem to be fading.

But Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America volunteers are fighting in statehouses every day to beat back the NRA. Together with Everytown for Gun Safety, we’re working with domestic violence prevention advocates and gun violence survivors in statehouses across the country to pass legislation to keep guns away from abusers. These measures have been successful in red states and blue states alike. More than 20 states have strengthened laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers since 2013. And just this year, we celebrated when Republican governors in New Jersey and Utah signed strong domestic gun violence legislation.

There is not one solution that will stop all gun violence like we saw this week in San Bernardino — but there are many improvements we can make to our weak gun laws and our culture of gun violence. Research showed that more than half of the women murdered with guns in United States in 2011 were killed by intimate partners or family members and the presence of a gun renders domestic abuse five times more likely to end in fatality.

So what can we do about it? First, if you or anyone you know is dealing with an abuser, reach out as soon as possible to law enforcement or a domestic violence prevention organization. Then, demand that Congress and our state legislatures drag our gun laws into the 21st century and pass legislation to keep guns out of the hands of all domestic abusers. Finally, make sure you’re registered to vote in local, state and national elections. Your voice matters.

Women shouldn’t fear being shot by their current or former intimate partners. It’s time to change the culture of gun violence in this country, and it’s time to end the gun lobby’s failed experiment of guns for anyone, anywhere, any time, no questions asked.

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots movement to prevent gun violence, and a board member for Emerge America, an organization that trains progressive women to run for office.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com