10/30/2014 11:26 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis for Black Women

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It is a sad and unfortunate fact that the gun violence epidemic -- which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year -- has a disproportionate impact on the black community. This is true not only for men, but for black women as well.

I lead a gun violence prevention organization called the Violence Policy Center. Each year, we release a report for Domestic Violence Awareness Month called When Men Murder Women, which analyzes national and statewide data on women murdered by men.

Year after year, we have found that black women are impacted by violence at levels far disproportionate to their numbers. In this year's report, we found that 468 black females were murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.

Black women were killed by men at a rate of 2.46 per 100,000 -- nearly two and a half times the rate for white women, who were murdered by males at a rate of 1.00 per 100,000. (For our analysis, we use unpublished data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Supplementary Homicide Report.)

Firearms -- especially handguns -- were the most common weapon males used to murder black females. When the weapon could be identified, 57 percent of black female victims were shot and killed with guns. Within that group, 76 percent were killed with a handgun.

We also found that with very few exceptions, black women were murdered not by strangers but by men known to them -- most often by intimate partners. When the relationship between the victim and offender could be identified, 92 percent of black females knew their killers. Within that group, 56 percent were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of their killers.

Most often, black women were killed by males in the course of an argument. The vast majority of these homicides were not related to any other felony crime such as rape or robbery. When circumstances could be identified, 86 percent of the murders were not related to the commission of another felony.

Understanding the circumstances of these murders is very important. The facts show that for black women, just as for all women, gun violence is most often linked with domestic violence. This means that stopping gun violence against women goes hand in hand with stopping domestic abuse. It means we should demand new laws at the state and federal levels to ensure domestic abusers cannot have guns.

When we take a step back, it's clear that nobody in America is immune from the threat of gun violence. Yet our analysis shows that black Americans, both men and women, are significantly more likely to be murdered. The racial disparity underlying this public health crisis is both unjust and unacceptable. To stop this crisis, we need our leaders to take action, and this includes regulating firearms -- our nation's number-one murder tool -- to protect public health and safety.