Around the world, it is easier to be banned from driving than to be banned from possessing a firearm.
Just last week, Namibians learned of a tragic incident which has become all too common in our newspapers and on our televisions. In Ovitoto, the alleged ongoing domestic abuse of Paulina Kenamuni by her boyfriend Julius ‘Namab’ Dausab culminated in tragedy. Late on Wednesday, June 3, Dausab allegedly murdered both Paulina and her mother, Elfrieda Kenamuni, with a hunting rifle.
Around the world, it is easier to be banned from driving than to be banned from possessing a firearm. For many women, this significantly heightens their risk of violent death and injury. This danger affects rich countries as well as those emerging from conflict or suffering from extreme poverty.
No community is immune from the problem of domestic abuse, and the power of a gun to make it lethal. In both South Africa and France, one in three women killed by their husbands is shot; in the USA this rises to two in three. Domestic shootings usually involve legal firearms, and women’s risk of being killed by an intimate partner triples when a gun is in the home.
Contrary to popular belief, a gun in the home is much more likely to be used to intimidate or physically injure family members than be used against an outside intruder.
This week is the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence, and events are being held in 85 countries to draw attention to the human toll of small arms proliferation and misuse. In particular, women around the world are taking action through the Disarming Domestic Violence campaign led by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).
Disarm Domestic Violence is the first international campaign to protect women from gun violence in the home. The main goal is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, and has their license revoked.
South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia, and Canada are among the handful of countries that have harmonised their legal frameworks on gun licensing and on domestic violence. This means the gun law prohibits ownership by domestic violence offenders, and the domestic violence law requires the removal of guns. Through the Disarm Domestic Violence campaign, IANSA members are pushing for this harmonisation to be replicated in many more countries, including Namibia. At a minimum, police should be required to consult the spouse, former spouse, or children before approving a gun license application. This is crucial because in many cases, the man who kills a woman has previously threatened or committed violence, without coming to the notice of police. In Ovitoto, Paulina had allegedly long endured physical abuse at the hands of Dausab.
The risk is heightened in Namibia because of the bureaucratic system that requires women to shuttle between Police stations, the Woman and Child Protection Unit, and the courts to obtain a protection order against a man that is abusing her. It can take months before this woman receives the order, if she ever does. The law must not only be harmonised here, but the system must be improved to allow for women to receive the help and protection they need.
The goal of removing guns from the hands of domestic abusers is ambitious, but recent successes demonstrate that changes are possible. Several countries have reformed their gun laws over the past decade and have begun to see the benefits, especially for women. In Canada, spousal notification is already the norm, and any concern by the spouse is investigated. The Canadian government has also established the “spousal notification” telephone information line.
This is a toll-free number that a spouse can call to express any concerns about an applicant, or report any alleged crimes that may not be in the legal records. Similarly, in South Africa and Australia, weapons are removed from persons who are subject to a restraining order for domestic violence.
Moreover, these laws are making a real difference and reducing gun deaths. Canada tightened its gun laws in 1995. By 2003, the gun murder rate dropped by 15 per cent overall, and by 40 per cent for women.
Australia overhauled its gun law in 1996. Five years later, the average gun murder rate was 45 per cent lower than it had been before the reforms. Again, the effect was more pronounced for women. Canada and Australia reformed their gun laws more than a decade ago, but few countries have followed, despite these successes. More women will be protected if other countries respond in a similar way with gun laws that take domestic violence into account.
We must all consider how gun violence affects our lives and communities, and demand from our government and legislators policies and practices to protect women in the home. In Namibia the priorities must be streamlining the system to allow women who are being abused to receive protection orders in a timely manner, and reforming our laws so that abusers are prohibited from having guns in the home. We can and must ensure that tragedies like that in Ovitoto do not happen again in Namibia.
Pauline Dempers is the co-founder of Breaking the Wall of Silence. She has represented the Nangof Trust at the National Focal Point on Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons since 2004. The Nangof Trust is the umbrella body for NGOs and CBOs in Namibia.
Originally published in The Namibian