Role of guns in Domestic violence

June 21, 2015

Briefing paper


WILPF supports the joint key priorities prepared by the Sexual Rights Initiative and this documents aims at expanding the supporting arguments for the impact of firearms on domestic violence.

When addressing domestic violence, the role of firearms is often overlooked. However, the availability of firearms was found to be the major risk factor for intimate partner homicide of women in a study in the USA, no correlation was found with urbanization or income inequalities.

Intimate partner violence

Homicide rates in general are strongly associated with the level of firearms availability. This correlation is also the case with domestic violence. If we take the example of the frequency of intimate partner homicide-suicide[1]. We see the rates in countries with wide availability such as Switzerland or USA, were higher than the Netherlands where the possession of firearms is very restricted.

As a report by IRIN points out: “… the diffusion of small arms into communities, engenders a rise in intimate-partner violence. Even in non-conflict settings, women are more likely to be attacked by a partner if a gun is available; in 2003 ‘The American Journal of Public Health’ found that access to a gun increased the likelihood of a woman being killed by her husband fivefold”[2].

International trends: the Arms Trade Treaty

The impact of the uncontrolled flow and widespread use of arms on women due to irresponsible and unregulated arms trade across borders resulted in the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) with a particular reference that exporting states need to assess the risk of their arms being used to commit gender-based violence (Art.7(4)). This includes of course any firearm.

The gun: a threat within the house

In the context of domestic violence, guns often play the role of a threat or an intimidation rather than being directly used, which can be the case in many instances as well.

Where the ownership of guns by men is most often presented as a means to protect their family as part of their obligation to do so as men, Small Arms Survey find that “Firearms in the home similarly represent an increased risk to women as they are more likely to be used to threaten and inflict harm on family members rather than to protect the home from intruders.”[3]

In a study carried out in a region of Pakistan characterised by a high level of possession of firearms, it was found that women felt in danger not only because of gun violence but also because of physical abuse. This was linked to the presence of a gun as much as to patriarchy and gender stereotypes imposed on them[4].

In a study in the USA it was found that guns are used to threaten women within the family more frequently than they are used to kill. Indeed, when in retrospective studies of intimate partner homicides generally there is a history of violence that did not however prevent the perpetrator from possessing a gun.[5]

With men almost always the bearers of guns, power imbalances between men and women are further distorted. The threat that firearms represent for women as described above both within the household and on the streets, to their lives, to their physical integrity and to their freedom is closely linked to the imposition of patriarchy.


Lessons learned

Current levels of regulation or the implementation of regulation regarding firearms are not thorough enough.

Work-related access to guns is not exempt from risks either. In South Africa, 10% of femicides in 1999 were perpetrated by men who had access to guns within their profession. The risk is even higher when it comes to victims of post-traumatic stress.

It is thus essential to strictly regulate the possession of guns and to implement closely and both these processes must take in to account the gendered aspects of gun possession. Small arms survey 2013 found that “comprehensive reform of firearms legislation is associated with reduction of overall and intimate partner homicides.”

Therefore, interventions that address violence against women and girls are more likely to be effective when they are part of a multifaceted approach, including legal reform and accountability for perpetrators.

In Canada, a universal licensing and registration system for all types of firearms, established in 1995, was responsible for a reduction in intimate partner homicides involving firearms. This law also introduced mandatory gun prohibition orders and revocations in domestic violence cases. Separating perpetrators or suspects from guns has also proven to be effective. However, application of these measures may vary if the decision is left to the judgment of judicial authorities and police.

Multidisciplinaries long-term projects with US Air Force personnel as part of risk population owing a gun has also been found to be successful best practices.

Guns and Negative Conceptions of Masculinity

Thus, while firearms themselves may not always be directly implicated in violence against women, they are correlated with an increase in gendered inequality and a generalised culture of violence against women.

This is supported by Indian specific studies, which have found that patriarchy, gendered inequality (and segregation) and the socialisation of men and boys around displaying heterosexual prowess and exerting control over women are key determinants of violence. [6] Similarly, in Nepal, gun ownership is tied to power and social status and as such the prerogative of powerful men. Women are generally perceived as opposing the use of firearms.[7]


Recommendations in View of the Upcoming HRC Resolution on Domestic Violence:



  • Recognising that the widespread possession of firearms aggravates the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence



  • Regulate the possession and use of firearms by civilians and security forces, including utilising a vetting system to avoid perpetrators of gender-based violence from obtaining arms permits, as well as orders of removal or confiscation of firearms by police authorities when suspicion of gender-based violence.
  • Implement special multidisciplinary programmes to raise awareness of GBV and monitor firearms owners, in particular collectives that own guns professionally.
  • Regulate and control the circulation of small arms, both domestic and international, including by enforcing the Arms Trade Treaty, UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and related UN Security Council resolutions


Agreed text:

  • 57th CSW, 2013 PP 25 The Commission recognizes that the illicit use of and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons aggravates violence, inter alia, against women and girls.
  • HRC RES 26/16 PP7 Alarmed that hundreds of thousands of human beings of all ages around the world, including women and children, have their human rights, in particular their right to life and security of person, negatively affected by the misuse, intentional or unintentional, of firearms, and that a significant number of such killings of women have occurred as a result of inter-partner violence,
  • UNSC RES 2117 (2013) PP 10 Recalling with grave concern that the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons fuel armed conflicts and have a wide range of negative human rights, humanitarian, development and socioeconomic consequences, in particular on the security of civilians in armed conflict, including the disproportionate impact on violence perpetrated against women and girls, and exacerbating sexual and gender-based violence and the recruitment and use of children by parties to armed conflict in violation of applicable international law,
  • GA RES A/RES/69/61 (2014) OP 4 Encourages Member States to better understand the impact of armed violence, in particular the impact of the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons on women and girls, through, inter alia, strengthening the collection of data disaggregated by sex and age;
  • HRC RES 26/16 OP 2 Calls upon all States to take appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures, consistent with international human rights law and their constitutional frameworks, in order to ensure that civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms are effectively regulated with the aim of enhancing the protection of the human rights, in particular the right to life and security of person, of all;


Contact us: María Muñoz Maraver – Human Rights Programme Director –

Mia Gandenberger – Reaching Critical Will Programme Manager –


[1] Intimate partner homocide-suicide is defined by the SAS violent events in which the perpetrator kills one or more people and subsequently commits suicide within a short period of time.

[2] IRIN, Guns Out of Control: The continuing threat of small arms, IRIN in Depth, 2006

[3] ibid

[4] Awaz Foundation Pakistan, Survey Report Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign 2009. Supported by IANSA.

[5] SAS 2013

[6] Sharna De Lacy, More arms than Mahishasura, WILPF and CAFI, 2014

[7] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2014. Chapter 1: In War and Peace – Violence against women and girls, small arms survey 2014 – women and guns. Cambridge University Press.

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