Gun violence is a growing epidemic and unfortunately a consistent cause of concern. As gender-based violence, particularly violence against women, continues to be rampant around the world, we must acknowledge the gendered impacts of gun violence. Half of all women in Canada and the U.S. have experienced a form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. As gun violence increases worldwide, women and gender minorities are impacted disproportionately.

WRJ Involvement

WRJ has often fought for gun violence prevention in a variety of ways. In our resolution entitled Gun Violence (1993), we acknowledged gun violence as an epidemic, something that has unfortunately not changed in recent years. We have called our members and sisterhoods to advocate for federal legislation requiring background checks, waiting periods, and demanding weapon-free schools. More recently, in Gun Violence (2013) we urged for the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and encouraged our members to become strong advocates for gun violence prevention measures. 

WRJ has long stood for protections against violence against women and gender minorities. Throughout our history we have written multiple resolutions and statements about combatting the scourge of gender-based violence worldwide, most recently in Addressing a Legacy of Reproductive and Gender-Based Violence Against Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color in North America (2021). The faith community generally has a particular role to play in combatting gender-based violence, as we are often one of the main providers of services and support to survivors. 

As Reform Jews, we are called to advocate for the survivors and victims of all violence, and gun violence in particular. One of our most valued laws, the 5th commandment, is “Thou shalt not murder.” (Exodus 20:13). The preservation of life, pikuach nefesh, is one of our most sacred values. Our scholars teach “One who takes one life, it is though they have destroyed the universe, and one who saves one life, it is as though they have saved the universe.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

Judaism not only condemns violence but empowers us to stand up to it. In Leviticus 19:16 we are told “do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed”; we do not just abhor violence but are motivated to end it. “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4) compels us not only to remove weapons from our society, but rather to reinvest in nourishing our communities. Finally, we are taught “when you build a new house you shall make a railing for your roof, so that you do not bring blood on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Deuteronomy 22:8). It is not enough for us to speak against gun violence, and gun violence against women and other gender minorities; we must work to put methods of prevention in place, through education and policy.

Guns and Intimate Partner Violence

Gun violence and gender-based violence, particularly intimate partner violence, are closely intertwined. Nearly 2/3 of intimate partner homicides in the U.S. are committed using a gun, and an average of 70 women are killed by an intimate partner with a gun every month.[1] An estimated 13.6% of American women have been threatened by an intimate partner with a gun, and of those, 43% have been physically injured by a firearm (including being shot, pistol-whipped, or sexually assaulted). 

These statistics are no coincidence. States with the highest rate of firearm ownership have a 65% higher rate of domestic firearm homicide than the states with the lowest rates of gun ownership. Over the ten-year period from 2011 to 2020, there was a 6% increase in intimate partner homicides of women; this trend was driven by gun homicides which increased by 15% during this period, while female intimate partner homicides by all other means decreased by 4%.

In Canada, 79% of those who reported experiencing intimate partner violence to the police were women.[2] One of every three women killed by an abuser in Canada is shot with a gun, and the single greatest predictor that intimate partner violence will become lethal is access to a firearm.[3] Canadian women own fewer than 4% of registered firearms but are twice as likely to be threatened by a gun.[4]

Gun Violence Against Women of Color

Gender-based violence in North America frequently has a racialized impact, and gun violence is no different. In Canada, 63% of indigenous women reported having experienced violence in their lifetime. In 2020, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was more than five times that of non-Indigenous women.[5]

In March 2021, spurred on by pandemic-fueled racism and sexism, a gunman who sought to ‘eliminate sexual temptation’ murdered six Asian women and two others in Atlanta. In the U.S., Native American, Black, and Latina women are victims of intimate partner firearm homicide at the highest rates; compared to white women, black women are three times more likely to be shot to death by an intimate partner.[6] Gun violence prevention is a necessary part of ending the cycles of abuse against women across North America. 

Gun Violence Against the LGBTQ+ Community

Violence against LGBTQ+ communities in North America has also become more common in recent years. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation in Canada rose 60% between 2019 and 2021, to the highest level in five years.[7] According to one study, nearly 60% of transgender Canadians have experienced some form of violence based on their identity since the age of 15 despite being a small portion of the population.

In the U.S., the number of transgender individuals who were murdered doubled between 2017 and 2021; of the victims, 73% were killed with a gun.[8] Despite estimations saying only about 13% of the transgender community identifies as Black, Black trans women made up almost three-quarters of the known victims. Research broadly shows that LGBTQ+ communities in the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. In 2017, guns were involved in 3/5 bias-motivated homicides against LGBTQ+ individuals.[9]

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also more likely to experience intimate partner violence.[10] Bisexual women are 1.8 times more likely to report having experienced intimate partner violence than heterosexual women, and 31.4% of transgender individuals have experienced intimate partner violence as opposed to 20.1% of cisgender individuals. 

Current Protections and Gaps in Protections

In the United States, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is one tool to combat gender-based violence. 

VAWA was initially passed in 1994 and included provisions to strengthen federal protections against and remedies for domestic violence such as trainings for law enforcement and large funding streams for survivor services and initiatives.[11] 

According to the Department of Justice, VAWA’s impact is clear: domestic violence is down, more survivors report attacks, and law enforcement has improved its investigation and prosecution of the crimes. VAWA is up for reauthorization every 5 years, which provides ample opportunities to strengthen protections. In recent years, VAWA has been expanded to include protections for LGBTQ+ and Native American communities.[12] 

However, there are still gaps within VAWA. Currently, VAWA leaves open the boyfriend loophole. Current American legislation typically prohibits individuals with domestic violence convictions from obtaining firearms. However, the legislation narrowly defines a domestic abuser as someone a survivor married, lived with, or has a child with. The boyfriend loophole, also known as the intimate partner loophole, refers to the legal gap allowing individuals to acquire and possess firearms despite being convicted of domestic violence offense or subject to restraining orders because they do not fit the legal definition of domestic partner. This loophole allows dangerous individuals to access firearms and pose risks to the safety of intimate partner violence survivors. While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 made efforts to close the boyfriend loophole, there are still many ambiguities in the language that leave women at risk for gun violence by their partners. 

However, that situation could soon get worse. In this year’s upcoming case, United States v. Rahimi (2024), a convicted domestic abuser is fighting for his right to access firearms even though he is prevented from possessing them by the current laws in place.[13] If the court rules in Rahimi’s favor, they will be setting precedent that there are no viable reasons to prevent gun ownership. This means that even more violent partners than before could have access to dangerous weapons, and more people will be put at risk for gun violence.

Therefore, Women of Reform Judaism commits to and calls upon its sisterhoods, women’s groups, and individual members to:

  1. Urge elected officials on all levels to
    1. Enact policy closing loopholes that allow for dangerous individuals with histories of committing gender-based violence to access firearms, such as the boyfriend loophole.
    2. Enact policy protecting LGBTQ+ communities and shelters from violence, including gun violence.
    3. Enact stronger hate crime policies to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as communities of color across North America.
    4. Fund research into gun violence as a public health epidemic to better understand the causes of and solutions for the current gun violence epidemic in North America.
    5. Work to stymie gun violence globally and assist other countries in preventing gun violence. 
    6. Increase funding for intimate partner violence survivor resources including hotlines, shelters, and government services.

  2. Advance policy recommendations listed above by:
    1. Implementing sisterhood and/or congregational programs on gender-based gun violence.
    2. Get involved in campaigns to support common sense gun laws.
    3. Advocate directly to elected officials on all levels to prevent gender-based gun violence and protect survivors.
    4. Donate to and volunteer at religious and non-religious services for survivors, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
    5. Donate to and volunteer at organizations that work to disrupt and prevent intimate partner violence, such as Jewish Women International and Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence.