Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has introduced legislation to improve existing laws to protect domestic violence survivors from gun violence at the hands of their perpetrators.
Today, one-third of women homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner with a firearm. However, current law makes a distinction between protections from an abusive spouse and protections from an abusive dating partner.
The Domestic Violence Survivors Protection Act (House Resolution 1177) would rectify this inequality by extending federal firearms prohibitions on individuals subject to a domestic violence restraining order to dating partners. It also would extend the Lautenberg Amendment to dating partners, which would prohibit an individual convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from purchasing a gun.
The legislation is modeled after existing California law. On Monday, the New York Times detailed current loopholes in the law as they pertain to domestic violence and gun possession, in an article by Michael Luo titled “Ruled a Threat to Family, But Allowed to Keep Guns.”
“Our current legal system makes an arbitrary distinction between protections for dating partners and protections for spouses and ex-spouses, creating a loophole in our gun laws and increasing danger for domestic violence victims and survivors. This is wrong, and that’s why I authored the Domestic Violence Survivors Protection Act, which would ensure that all abused women, whether married or not, are provided the same protections,” Capps said. “In addition, this bill would provide greater security for domestic violence survivors by protecting them during the time when they are most at risk, in the minutes, hours and days immediately after leaving a violent partner. An abusive ex-boyfriend with a gun is no less lethal than an abusive ex-husband with a gun. It is time for federal law to join 18 states in recognizing that reality by passing the Domestic Violence Survivors Protection Act.”
Additionally, the Domestic Violence Survivors Protection Act would allow an emergency or ex-parte hearing to trigger a temporary prohibition on possession of a firearm. This change would allow a judge to issue a temporary protective order that would prohibit an abuser from possessing or purchasing a weapon in the days between the time when a woman leaves her partner, and the time at which a full hearing can be scheduled.
Women are most vulnerable in the hours and days immediately after leaving a violent partner, and these protective orders often serve as the first notification to an abuser that his partner is ending their relationship. Allowing temporary prohibitions on firearms would help protect women in the immediate aftermath of an incident and end of the relationship and before a full hearing can be conducted. Research has shown that these early moments in the separation are often the most dangerous to women leaving their abusers.
Last week at a hearing held by the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, testified about the importance of passing Capps’ legislation and addressing the existing loopholes in the background check system that allow abusers to purchase firearms.
“Research demonstrates that domestic violence perpetrators’ gun ownership increases the risk of homicide 5 times above that of perpetrators without guns, but that prohibiting abusers access to firearms while they are subject to a restraining order saves lives,” Dr. Webster said. “The Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act will extend that protection to many who are in danger of armed and dangerous abusers.”
The Domestic Violence Survivors Protection Act has been endorsed by the Brady Campaign, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Futures Without Violence.
“Inconsistent application of and loosely worded laws regulating the sale of guns has led to far too many homicides, whether as mass shootings or the nearly every day occurrence of victims of domestic violence being murdered by their abuser,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Research shows that one out of three domestic violence victims are killed annually. Females whose partner threatens them with a gun or other weapon are 20 times more likely to be murdered than other abused female victims. One study shows that 40 percent of mass shootings that occurred between 2009 and 2012, the shooter targeted and killed a female intimate partner among other innocent bystanders.
“It is imperative that Congress act immediately and pass strong laws such as the Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act. Law enforcement must be armed with sensible gun legislation in order to keep as many guns out of dangerous hands as possible. No more senseless violent gun tragedies. One is too many.”
Kiersten Stewart, director of Public Policy, Futures Without Violence, said: “Guns and domestic violence are a deadly combination, killing thousands of women and children every year. Congresswoman Capps’ bill is a critical step in ending domestic violence homicides. This is legislation that will save lives.”
— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.