Safety Planning Around Guns and Firearms

By Heather, a Hotline Advocate

Please note that this post may be highly triggering for some readers.

*The following safety planning suggestions require you to be able to use a safe computer. We strongly discourage you from using your personal phone, tablet or computer to utilize these tips. We recommend going to the public library or using a safe friend’s or family member’s device.*

Here at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, we know that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. It’s important to note that this risk doesn’t only apply to women; anyone can be in serious danger if their abusive partner has a gun. Additionally, research shows that previous abuse in a relationship is the greatest determining factor in murder/suicides. These increased risks are some of the reasons we do not advocate for survivors of domestic violence to purchase a gun. So regardless of your or your partner’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, you deserve to prioritize your safety and make the best plan to keep yourself as safe as possible.

We at The Hotline know that you are the expert in your situation, and you are the best person to decide what will help keep you safest. If you are planning to leave your partner, keep in mind that ending an abusive relationship can be an extremely dangerous time, especially if your partner has access to firearms. To get a better understanding of the lethality of your partner’s behavior, you can download this Danger Assessment.

General safety planning tips for any abusive relationship include keeping a charged cell phone on silent on you at all times so you can call for help when it’s safe, and running away from the situation if possible. Keep in mind, all of the suggestions in this article are just that – suggestions! There are many factors that can affect your safety plan. If you live with your partner, your plan will look very different from someone who does not live in the same home as their abuser. The area you live in (i.e. rural, urban, etc) can alter your safety plan as well. Additionally, your partner’s frequency of gun usage will greatly impact the details of the safety plan you create.

During a Calm Time

Try to familiarize yourself as much as possible with your partner's firearms.

This includes showing an interest in them, taking a gun safety course, practicing shooting at a gun range and learning what caliber the ammunition is and how many bullets they hold at a time could be lifesaving information later on.

Go to the shooting range.

Go to the shooting range and watch and listen to various guns being fired until you’re comfortable with your ability to see and hear gunfire without panicking

Obtain trigger locks.

Trigger locks keep guns from being fired immediately and can buy you precious seconds.

Consider a protective order.

Getting a protective order in many states can require that an abusive partner turn over their guns.

Protect your children.

If there are kids in the house, insist that for their safety and so Child Protective Services won’t be involved, the gun(s) and ammunition should be stored separately.

If your partner is a convicted felon, report them.

If your partner is a convicted felon, anonymously let your partner’s parole/probation officer know they have a gun (one way to do this if they keep a gun on them at all times is to call 911 and report their car/license plate for suspected drunk driving when they are alone driving somewhere). Do not use your own phone or cell phone to make this call, as your abusive partner might gain access to your phone records or call history.

Utilize personal technology.

Consider investing in a wearable personal alarm you can use to call for help.

Prepare yourself mentally for the worst.

Mentally prepare yourself for what to do if you are actively being shot at.

Do pre-planning and research.

Read up on how to evade gunfire in case you need to escape.

Familiarize yourself with First Aid techniques online, or take a class through the Red Cross.

Consider building your own or investing in a Gunshot Wound First Aid Kit and/or QuikClot you can hide near an exit or somewhere outside your home.

When You’re Being Abused

Think as clearly as you can.

Try to control your breathing (in through your nose and out through your mouth), so you can think clearly. Say to yourself, “I will live through this”.

Say or do whatever you can to de-escalate the situation.

If your partner is pointing a gun at you, look them in the eyes and tell them, “Don’t do this to yourself” and talk about how much they would lose.

Get away if you can do so safely.

If you can’t get away when your partner is pointing their gun at you, hiding under the bed might elicit some sympathy.

Move away from your children.

If your abuser points the gun at you, slowly move to a place where, if it was fired, the bullets would not continue on to your children.

Note your surroundings.

Be aware of your surroundings, and make a mental note of what you could use to shield yourself when your partner becomes abusive (bulletproof clipboards are available online).

Protect your body.

If your partner puts the gun away and is physically abusing you, if you can’t get away, get into a corner and sit with your back against the wall, knees pulled up to your chest, tuck your head down, and cover your neck with your arms – this will protect your vital organs from kicks and punches.

If You Are Being Shot At

Keep a clear head.

Say to yourself, “I will live through this.”

Try to distract, confuse, or slow down your abuser.

Try turning off the lights, throwing heavy, hot or sharp things, and using a fire extinguisher. Use whatever is closest to you. Try to escape.

Plan your safety route.

Wikihow says “determine a route to safety that includes as much cover (things that bullets can’t go through) and concealment (things you can hide behind) on the way. Use it by sprinting in brief rushes that last 2 to 3 seconds at a time from one hiding place to the next. The average marksman can only sight on a target within 3 to 4 seconds. So, ideally, using this technique, you’ll be behind the next cover or concealment before [they] pull the trigger. Try to stay low and dodge and weave [run in a zigzag pattern- it’s harder to hit a moving target] if you miscalculate the distance. It isn’t perfect, but it is a proven infantry technique.”

If you manage to escape, stay safe.

Call 911 and have the police and an ambulance come to you.

Turn off your phone once you’re safe so your location cannot be tracked.

If You Have Been Shot AND Are Being Shot At

Stay strong.

Say to yourself “I will live through this.”

Try to distract, confuse, or slow down your abuser.

Turning off the lights, throwing heavy, hot or sharp things and using a fire extinguisher are all options; use what’s closest to you. Try to secape.

Take care of yourself if you can.

Put pressure on the wound. Elevate the wound above your heart if possible.

Use a belt, shirt, necklace, scarf, shoelace, or whatever you can find to make a tourniquet only if you are bleeding very severely from a wound in the arm or leg.

Get to a hospital if you can. Turn off your phone once you’re safe so your location cannot be tracked.

As stated above, these safety planning tips are not guaranteed to keep you safe. No one ever deserves to be threatened in any way, but the presence of a gun in an abusive relationship significantly heightens the danger for a victim. If the person abusing you pulls the trigger of a gun while it’s pointed at or near you, even if it’s unloaded or doesn’t fire, the only message to take from that action is that this person does not care about your well being, safety or life at all. You deserve better. Never forget that you have the right to defend yourself and that includes calling 911 to involve the police if you are in immediate danger.