Firearms are the leading cause of homicide in domestic violence cases, and firearms are the weapon of choice for abusers intent on intimidating their intimate partners. Firearms threaten the lives of law enforcement officers responding to domestic violence emergencies. Victim advocates in shelters and on hotlines have heard too many chilling stories from survivors living in terror of abusers’ firearms violence to ignore the lethal threat that firearms pose in domestic violence, dating violence and stalking cases.
Congress has agreed with victim advocates for more than two decades, since enacting the federal firearms prohibitions at 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) and (g)(9) in 1994 and 1996: persons who have been found by a court to have used physical force or threats of gun violence against an intimate partner should not have access to firearms. The Supreme Court also agrees, having upheld these laws against every challenge that has been brought.
Victim advocates have asked Congress to strengthen the critically important laws that protect victims from firearms violence. Yet the gun industry lobby has falsely called the life-saving provisions that victim advocates have asked Congress to provide in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act “a poison pill” and “shameful politics.” The NRA has announced that they will actively oppose H.R. 1585. The NRA’s opposition will support abusers’ access to guns.
The member organizations of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence -- who represent the thousands of programs serving victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking across the country -- want Congress to know that we stand with victims. And we want to know if Congress stands with victims alongside of us. Do we save lives? Or do we continue to give abusers access to firearms?
Despite the groundless protestations of members of the gun industry lobby, none of the provisions in the Violence Against Women Act of 2019 (H.R.1585) aimed at preventing firearms homicides are controversial. There is nothing controversial about trying to save lives H.R.1585 reflects the consensus of the 91% of Americans who support strengthening laws to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The provisions in H.R. 1585 simply address lethal gaps in current federal law and give law enforcement the tools they need to enforce existing laws.
- Close the “boyfriend loophole.” The laws prohibiting domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing firearms are two decades old, written when dating violence was not a federal crime. Dating violence is now a federal crime, yet current law does not reflect that. The result is that if you are married, federal law protects you. If you are in a dating relationship that does not meet the more limited definition of “intimate partner,” then federal law does not protect you. We believe outdated laws need to be updated so that all victims of abuse receive the protections they deserve.
-Close the stalking loophole. Almost half of stalking cases involve violence, and almost 20% involve threats with a weapon. Research has shown that Americans who are stalked are at least 200 times more likely to be murdered than Americans who have not. In domestic violence situations, stalking is a key indicator of lethality. Stalkers are a danger to their victims and their communities, and it is in the public interest to ensure that perpetrators who have been convicted of stalking by a court should not have access to guns.
-Give law enforcement the tools they need to enforce the law and save lives. If a court of law has found a person to have used physical force or threats of firearms violence, and as a matter of law the adjudicated abuser must relinquish firearms, then we should give law enforcement the tools they need to safely carry out the orders of the court. Victims and law enforcement deserve the best resources possible to protect their lives from a convicted abuser’s or stalker’s firearms violence.
H.R.1585 is not about guns; it is about saving lives of the thousands of victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking across the country. It is about improving prevention of sexual and domestic violence, ensuring victims have access to vital services, providing victims with a safe place to go when they are escaping abuse, and ending impunity for non-Natives who sexually assault and prey on Native women on tribal lands. These are the priorities of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, which is a national collaboration comprising a large and diverse group of national, tribal, state, territorial, and local organizations, advocates, and individuals that focuses on the development, passage and implementation of effective public policy to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. A vote against H.R.1585 is a vote against the safety and well-being of survivors, their families, and their communities.
Important information regarding domestic violence and firearms
A full 35% of American women who are murdered by men annually are killed by an intimate partner wielding a firearm.
Approximately 4.5 million American women alive today have been threatened by an abuser with a firearm. Of these, one million have either been shot or shot at.
Among respondents to a survey of people who contacted the National Domestic Violence Hotline whose abusers had access to firearms, 67% believed their abusers were capable of killing them.
A plurality of law enforcement officers killed on the job are killed while responding to domestic violence situations, and 95% of them are killed with guns.
Even when a firearm is not used directly against the victim, an abuser’s mere possession of a firearm correlates with increased severity of physical abuse.
The percentage of intimate partner homicides that are committed by spouses have steadily trended downwards, while the percentage of intimate partner homicides that are committed by dating partners have increased.
Law enforcement now respond to four times the number of dating violence calls than they do to domestic violence calls.