The Difference a Gun Makes

Posted on December 5, 2012

By now, we have all heard the story. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his child, Kasandra Perkins, on Saturday, before turning the gun on himself in front of his coaches at Arrowhead Stadium. Tragically, stories like that of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher happen every day in America — three women on average are murdered daily by a current or former intimate partner.

NBC sports commentator Bob Costas was right in his assessment of the deadliness of guns in domestic disputes, as he mourned the loss of Belcher and Perkins during the Kansas City Chiefs game on Sunday. He quoted an article written by reporter Jason Whitlock:

Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed….But here is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

A backlash from Rush Limbaugh and other pundits ensued. Limbaugh espoused that the gun was not the reason Belcher killed his girlfriend, that he could have strangled her instead. A Fox news anchor argued we shouldn’t be concerned about firearms because Belcher could have used a butcher knife. These commentators threw up their hands, saying that there’s nothing we can do to prevent batterers from killing.

Thankfully, those who work with domestic violence victims do not accept this false conclusion. Part of the job of a police officer, social worker, attorney, or judge who must intervene in a domestic violence situation is to assess which pattern of violence is most likely to turn from repeated assaults to homicide. Numerous tools have been developed to help assess the particular risk of lethality in each situation. Domestic violence death review teams meticulously pore over details of dead victims’ relationships with their batterers to determine what factors they have in common. It is no surprise that a batterer’s access to firearms has been found to be one of the greatest predictors that an abusive relationship will turn fatal.

Domestic Violence and Gun Laws

Domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are twelve times more likely to result in death.1

The reasons for this are obvious. Common sense tells us that an assault with a firearm will more likely lead to death than an assault without one. Statistics bear this out. Domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force.

Firearms are efficient weapons and leave no time for intervention. A victim who might have escaped a knife attack and made it to the police, and then a shelter, and then to court for a restraining order, will likely never get the chance if she is attacked with a firearm.

“Handguns do not enhance our safety, they exacerbate our flaws…” Those who work in the area of domestic violence know that abusers are not evil people hell-bent on killing their partners by any means necessary. Rather, they are deeply flawed individuals involved in deeply flawed relationships. All too often, firearms are the tragic ingredient that make these flaws final, keep others from intervening, and result in an epidemic of unnecessary deaths.

  1. Linda E. Saltzman, et al., Weapon Involvement and Injury Outcomes in Family and Intimate Assaults, 267 JAMA, 3043-3047 (1992). []