The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held its first-ever hearing on the ties between gun policy and domestic violence, deemed an important step in efforts to protect women.
Members of a witness panel discussed possible measures that would close the loopholes in current federal law, including the use of temporary restraining orders to prevent convicted stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence from purchasing firearms. They mentioned possible next steps in passing additional legislation in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to protect women from gun violence. A new bill focused on the issue was proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.
About 48 women are shot to death by intimate partners each month, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. A woman is five times more likely to be murdered when a firearm is accessible.
The existing law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers — online and at gun shows, for example — are not required to observe the same policies.
Elvin Daniel, a member of the National Rifle Association, lost his sister when she was shot and killed by her estranged husband in 2012. At the hearing on Wednesday, he said he is "convinced" her abuser deliberately bought a gun from an unlicensed firearms dealer.
"Had there been a background check, chances are my sister Zina would still be here with us. Now I'm helping to care for my two nieces who lost their mother and will have to grow up without her," said Daniel, who is a gun owner. He added that most of his friends also possess firearms and often hunt.
During a round of questioning, Joyce Malcolm of George Mason University School of Law said alleged abusers deserve the right to appear at a hearing where evidence is presented before authorities remove weapons from their homes.
"From the evidence that I've seen, half of the accused persons, after the hearing, are found not to be guilty. So they need an opportunity to be heard," said Malcolm, who added that she opposes a temporary restraining order unless there is an immediate hearing for the accused perpetrator before a ruling is issued.
American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in any other developed country, according to a recent report released by Everytown. In addition, domestic violence influenced 57% of the mass tragedies that occurred in the country from January 2009 to July 2014.
The majority of women — 81% — support extending the definition of "abusers" to include stalkers and dating partners, according to a poll released Wednesday by Everytown. Broadening the interpretation of "abuser" would prohibit more individuals from legally buying and possessing firearms. Overwhelming support for such a measure exists among 77% of both Republican and independent women. The poll was conducted between July 22 and July 27 among 800 women likely to vote in this year's midterm elections.
Until the hearing this week, it had been more than a year since leaders discussed the issue in the U.S. Senate. The House last February passed VAWA, thus extending abuse protections to Native Americans and LGBT individuals, after a year of legislative stalemate. The previous VAWA, which created a National Domestic Violence Hotline and authorized federal funding for battered women's shelters, expired in 2011.
The national debate about gun rights remains at a standstill at the congressional level as shooting rampages continue across the country. Leaders in Washington failed to pass a bipartisan background checks bill last year, just months after the December 2012 massacre inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Some states have passed new reform measures that tighten gun restrictions, while others have enacted laws that weaken regulations.
Since the beginning of the year, six states -- Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Washington, and Wisconsin -- have enacted domestic gun violence legislation that will defend women, with support from both sides of the aisle.
Everytown, the pre-reform gun group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on Tuesday released a new television and online advertisement that depicts a scene where an ex-boyfriend abducts a child and shoots the mother, despite her restraining order against him. The spot will air in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Nevada, and New Hampshire in an attempt to urge legislators in those regions to pass measures that stop violence against women.
Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot and wounded by a Tucson gunman in 2011, earlier this year requested a hearing that focuses on gun violence against women. The event's record will remain open for a week.
Following the hearing on Wednesday, Giffords launched a leadership network to educate state and federal lawmakers on the need for solutions that protect women from gun violence. The group is planning a major advocacy push this year near the 20th anniversary of VAWA on Sept. 13.