November 29, 2022

The Public Health and Women’s Health Impact of Gun Violence

Updated May 16, 2023. By: Gabriella Watson, MS, Science Programs Coordinator, SWHR.

While mass shootings like those in Chesapeake, Colorado Springs, Uvalde, and Buffalo continue to make national headlines and garner public attention, this type of gun violence only comprises about 1% of all gun-related deaths in the United States. In 2021, more than 49,000 people died from gun violence – the highest number recorded to date in the United States, and a nearly 8% increase from the year prior. Every day, more than 100 people die from gun violence across the country, of which, around 60% are suicides and 38% are homicides. An additional 200 people are shot but nonfatally injured, and 1,000 more are threatened by a gun each day.

Given gun violence’s impact on morbidity and mortality, in 2018, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychiatric Association released a joint position statement and call to action highlighting the need to treat gun violence in the United States as a public health crisis.

Among high income countries, the United States accounts for 82% of all gun-related deaths and 92% of gun-related deaths affecting women. With its impacts felt across families, communities, and the country, gun violence in the United States is not only a public health crisis, it is a women’s health issue.

Burden of Gun Violence among Women

One million women in the United States have been shot, and 4.5 million women have been threatened by a gun, according to The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) Women of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and women with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, and experience higher rates of domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV) involving guns. Nearly one in four women in the United States has experienced IPV, and each month, 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.

According to research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in October of 2022, guns were involved in 68% of pregnancy-associated homicides and 35% of pregnancy-associated suicides. Further, a history of IPV was present in 57% of homicides and 37% of suicides during pregnancy. Another study found that 59% of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were related to domestic violence and that in 68% of mass shootings the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, and either killed a family member or intimate partner.

Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner if the abuser has access to a gun. These dangers can be exacerbated by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornados, and pandemics, which are risk factors for domestic and intimate partner violence. For example, during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, there was a reported 8% increase in domestic violence and a spike in gun purchases, which lead to increased gun violence in domestic situations.

Annually, gun violence costs the United States’ economy $280 billion and hospitals $2.8 billion. Families directly impacted by gun violence spend $4.7 million in out-of-pocket costs for medical bills and mental health support every day. Other impacts of gun violence can include long-term disability, loss of work, decreased quality of life, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, and anxiety, among other challenges. According to research published in JAMA Surgery in November of 2019, 48.6% of gun violence survivors screened positively for probable PTSD. Furthermore, among survivors, unemployment increased by 4.3% and substance use increased by 13.2%. Women threatened by gun violence are also more likely to develop severe PTSD.

Prevention of Gun Violence

While statistics alone cannot capture the enduring impacts that gun violence has had and continues to inflict upon American communities, it is estimated that around 15% of Americans have witnessed gun violence and another 15% have been directly affected. Communities of color are affected at disproportionate rates, and it is reported that 23% of Black adults and 22% of Hispanic adults have had someone they cared for killed by gun violence. Gun violence prevention could improve the health, well-being, and safety of communities across the country, including women.

A public health approach to preventing gun violence requires better data collection and increased research funding to inform gun policies and evidence-based interventions, while also empowering the communities that are directly affected. As outlined by the American Public Health Association (APHA), gun violence is preventable through a comprehensive public health approach that includes:

A public health approach could help to address the impacts that gun violence has on women’s health and help to reduce maternal mortality. Research is needed to examine the risk and protective factors of gun violence on IPV and pregnancy-associated deaths in order to develop effective preventive and intervention strategies.

For more information and resources regarding gun violence and prevention visit: