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Joint statement from Jane Doe Inc. and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance regarding court decision on gun distributors as essential services

Issued May 8, 2020

The innate and dangerous connection between the presence of guns in households and domestic violence is not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic.   According to the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. Stay at home orders in response to the current pandemic are intended to keep families in their homes as a safety precaution.  Yet, as Massachusetts is now ordered to recognize gun dealers as essential services and reopen these stores across the state, an increase in firearms in the home may further jeopardize the personal safety of victims of abuse.

While these concerns are not new, the compounding stressors brought on by coronavirus add fuel to those fires. For people experiencing domestic violence or at risk for committing suicide, more guns in the home at a time of greater isolation and barriers to services can be especially dangerous.

Recent research from the University of Indianapolis found that for each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates, there was a 13% increase in domestic violence homicides involving firearms.  Given the directives across the country to stay at home as much as possible, survivors of domestic violence are more likely to be in close quarters with their abusers without immediate access to resources such as advocacy, safety planning, or shelter. While restraining orders are one mechanism to remove a gun from a home, courts are limited to virtual access for such emergency matters – a reality that poses access challenges to many survivors without adequate support.  

Given the unique lethality of guns, studies show that the temporary removal of firearms from people in crisis can also reduce the risk of suicide. Guns are used in only 5% of suicide attempts, yet they are responsible for over 50% of suicide deaths. The mental health toll of this pandemic is already unprecedented and will unfold for years to come. While government leaders and health care professionals focus limited resources on addressing the immediate needs of residents amidst a pandemic, we need to ensure that increasing the availability of guns does not create a compounding public emergency to a Commonwealth already in crisis.

Violence in the home, and behind closed doors, thrives on imbalanced power dynamics and isolation. While unintended, the COVID-19 pandemic response helps create the type of environment that abusers can manipulate. 

In light of this court decision, we urge the public to use this opportunity to check in on your family, friends, and neighbors’ well-being.  Now more than ever, increased attention to mental health and personal safety is imperative.  Resources, advocacy, and court services remain available and are being provided remotely for individuals seeking help. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse and is concerned about the presence of guns in your home, please reach out to an advocate to talk about your options and get support. Call the 24/7 hotline SafeLink for free and confidential services at 877-785-2020.  To locate a victim service program near you, visit http://janedoe.org/findhelp or https://www.mass.gov/askmova.  For anyone struggling or feeling overwhelmed, the Samaritans offer 24/7 Crisis Services for calls and texts at 877-870-4673.  You are not alone.

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