VIEWPOINT: Universal Background Checks Are A Women’s Issue

Over a week ago, I attended the Women in the World conference, which powerfully shines the light on the struggles of women and girls in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There was a fierce panel of Indian women who discussed the New Delhi gang rape and murder. Another panel on the Assad regime’s brutal acts of torture against women and girl protesters in Syria. And then, the girls from Pakistan, girls like Malala, who are are risking their very lives because they insist on their right to go to school.

But, throughout the conference, I kept thinking about how despite all the violence that our sisters are forced to endure in other parts of the globe, right here at home, we are the ones more vulnerable to being struck down by a bullet than in any other developed nation. And who is talking about that horrible reality, even as the gun debate finally takes center stage?

Almost every day in the U.S., women and girls are hurt by gun violence, and it is abused women and girls who are the most vulnerable. The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent. In 2010, half of the women murdered with guns in the U.S. were killed at the hands of their intimate partners. And, in more than half of the mass shootings that have played out across our nation, the shooters also killed their current or former girlfriends.

Abused women are so vulnerable partly because of weak gun laws. Technically, the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban prevents those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor count of domestic violence from either buying or owning a gun. But loopholes in the federal law allow many abusers to pass a background check and obtain a firearm anyway. And any abuser can purchase a gun from unlicensed, private sellers — by attending a gun show, or even with the simple click of a mouse on an online site like

This is why universal background checks are so critical to saving women’s lives. There are some states that already require a background check for every sale of a gun, including private sales. Not surprisingly, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners in those states.

The Senate is taking up the issue of universal background checks this week in an attempt to finally addresses the epidemic of gun violence in America. Those of us who work so hard to keep women and girls safe from violence must lift up the intersection between women’s safety and gun safety. We are the ones who successfully achieved bipartisan support to address violence against women and girls through the recent passage of VAWA. Our next endeavor is now joining our voices to the larger chorus of parents, cops, and faith leaders, to urge for universal background checks. Because that is part of how we protect abused women, mothers, and their children.

Our guest blogger is Malika Saada Saar, the executive director of Rights4Girls, a U.S. based human rights organization for young women and girls.