Almost one-half of American women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV), defined as physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner. IPV is associated with an increased risk of homicide, with firearms as the most commonly used weapon. We designed this study to better understand the impact of interpersonal trauma exposure and demographic factors on firearm perceptions among a cohort of IPV-exposed women.
267 women in central Pennsylvania with exposure to IPV were surveyed about perceptions of gun access, safety, and gun presence in the home. Trauma variables included IPV type, IPV recency, unwanted sexual exposure, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Multivariable analyses examined each of the three firearm perception questions controlling for trauma exposures and demographics.
Ease of firearm acquisition: Women who reported physical IPV (aOR2.40, 95%CI 1.20,4.81), women who reported past year unwanted sexual exposure (aOR4.01, 95% CI 1.00,16.03), and women of ages 47-54 (aOR3.57 95%CI 1.49,8.55) reported that guns were easy to acquire, compared to women ages 19-34.
Perceived safety in the proximity of a gun: Women with the highest ACE score were less likely to feel safe with a gun nearby (aOR0.41, 95%CI 0.21,0.84). Rural women (aOR4.13, 95%CI 1.55,11.01), and women ages 35-46 had increased odds (aOR2.88, 95%CI 1.35,6.12) of reporting that guns made them feel safer.
Odds of guns in the home: Women who were divorced or separated (aOR0.22, 95%CI 0.09,0.54) and women were widowed or single (aOR0.22, 95%CI 0.07,0.68) had lower odds of having a gun in the home, compared to married women. Rural women had higher odds of living in a home with a gun (aOR3.30, 95%CI 1.04,10.49). There was no significant effect of the trauma variables on the odds of having a gun at home.
Trauma exposures, including physical IPV and past-year unwanted sexual exposure, were associated with women’s perceptions that it was easier to acquire guns in their community. Women with more severe childhood trauma felt less safe around firearms, but trauma exposures did not predict gun ownership. Instead, demographics of being married and rural residence were associated with gun ownership.