More than 30 years ago I was a young staffer in a domestic violence shelter helping women and their children flee their violent abuser. I witnessed firsthand the power of a gun woven into the tragic tapestry of family violence. And even then, when as a movement we were still trying to understand the mindset of one who would harm those he promised to love, I felt the dread of the deadly consequences of guns in the hands of abusers.
Today we know all too well what was so troubling to me back then, that domestic violence is inextricably linked to the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings in our country. It is a tragic connection that has been overlooked for far too long by our elected officials.
Recent events dictate a clarion call to change our laws.
Just little more than a week ago, in Sutherland, Texas, a convicted domestic abuser used an assault weapon to murder 26 people in a church. In a few short minutes, 5 percent of the town was murdered. Law enforcement officials say the shooter was a serial abuser and had served time in a military prison for domestic violence and child abuse. The latest shooting confirms what we already know and can quantify: Family violence is a predictor of acts of larger scale violence.
The connection between gun violence and domestic violence is clear. While mass shootings occur with growing frequency, gun-accelerated domestic violence takes place in homes across our country with alarming frequency. Nearly 4.5 million American women report that they have been threatened by an intimate partner with a gun, according to Susan Sorenson and Rebecca Schut from the University of Pennsylvania. Research at Johns Hopkins University shows that the presence of a gun during a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood that the woman will be shot and killed by a factor of five.
Just as horrifying is the fact that 54 percent of mass shootings are connected to domestic or family violence. Over the last six years, mass shootings in the United States killed 422 people, including over 160 children.
Many elected officials and leaders of the NRA would have us believe that that there is nothing that can be done to reduce the number of gun deaths in our country, that mass shootings are simply a necessary consequence of a democratic society. They are unequivocally wrong. We can no longer accept as good enough the “thoughts and prayers” from our political leaders. We must demand they support legislative solutions to tackle this epidemic.
Closing loopholes and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers isn’t a partisan issue — it’s a moral one. Commonsense reforms to address the dangerous intersection of domestic violence and gun violence would save lives, and most Americans already agree on what needs to be done.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) have proposed legislation to close the “boyfriend” loophole that currently allows convicted abusers to buy and own guns as long as they don’t live with or have a child with their partner.
Another commonsense fix will close the loophole that allows a domestic violence perpetrator to keep or buy a gun after a temporary restraining order has been issued by a judge. This bill, proposed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), would protect survivors when they finally leave their abusive partner, the most dangerous phase in the cycle of violence.
Expanding background checks and improving the federal background check databases will strengthen the current system for firearm registration. A bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), would require background checks on all commercial sales of firearms, including purchases at gun shows, over the internet and through classified ads.
With only 5 percent of all misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence entered into the FBI’s national background check database, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has also announced plans to introduce a bill to address this troubling gap.
Passing each of these bills should be common sense — no domestic violence abuser should have access to a firearm. It is up to each of us to demand that our elected officials end the paralysis and enact laws that would protect everyone.
Lori Weinstein is the CEO of Jewish Women International.