Connecticut senators forced to rethink their gun-control strategy after the upper chamber’s abandonment of sweeping legislation this spring have introduced a targeted bill that would take guns away from those under temporary restraining orders.
The Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) crafts a federal law to enforce what currently falls under a patchwork of varied state laws.
Some states require surrender of weapons for even a temporary order; Blumenthal and Murphy’s bill would prohibit purchases or possession by anyone under a temporary restraining order.
Other states have more detailed circumstances in which gun surrender is required, others wait until a court hearing where the accused is heard and a full injunction is granted, others give officials the authority to request that guns are turned over but don’t require it, and yet others prohibit gun possession but don’t have surrender requirements. Some ban new purchases and transportation of guns.
Gun-rights advocates have lobbied against state laws that take away any rights before a full injunction is decided upon, while advocates for victims of domestic violence say the weapons surrender is not necessarily permanent and defuses the situation at the most volatile moment when a restraining order is first granted.
In 2010, 241 males and 1,095 females were murdered by an intimate partner, according to the Justice Department. Out of all the women killed with a firearm that year, two-thirds were slain by an intimate partner.
Blumenthal said that the risk of homicide for women in a domestic violence situation goes up by 500 percent if there’s a gun in the picture.
“Victims who seek temporary restraining orders do so under life and death circumstances. Unfortunately, in many instances, our laws fail to adequately protect these victims at the moment they are most vulnerable—when a temporary restraining order has first been issued,” Blumenthal said.
“The presence of a gun at this highly volatile moment can be catastrophic,” he continued. “My bill, the Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act, would make it a federal crime for those subject to a temporary restraining order to possess a gun. This is common sense legislation that will save lives.”
Murphy said “the terrifying stories of domestic violence are gut-wrenching and the statistics don’t lie—domestic violence and guns are a truly lethal combination.”
“Many domestic violence situations are at their most dangerous early on, and that’s when many state and federal laws are surprisingly weak,” he said. “We already know that requiring background checks for firearms purchases is the right thing to do—this bill will help keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time.”
In Connecticut, those under a temporary restraining order through civil courts cannot purchase a gun but are not required to surrender their firearms until a permanent injunction is granted. In the criminal courts, those under restraining orders have two days to sell or surrender their firearms.
Advocates pitching for the bill alongside Blumenthal and Murphy said that between 2000 and 2011, 66 people in Connecticut were killed by an intimate partner wielding a gun.
In March, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to extend gun restrictions in federal law from abusive spouses to abusive dating partners as well. The legislation, modeled after existing California law, has lingered in committee since April with no co-sponsors.
“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.
The bill also allows for an emergency hearing to trigger a temporary prohibition on possession of a firearm before a full hearing on a restraining order can be scheduled.
“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,” Capps added. “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.”
The Connecticut senators’ broader push for gun control after the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary culminated in Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yanking the sweeping bill in April after gun-rights Democrats supported Republicans in blocking the Toomey-Manchin compromise amendment on background checks.
Four Democrats voted “no” on the amendment, which needed 60 votes: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). Reid voted no as a procedural move that allows him to bring the bill back later. Four Republicans voted “yes”: Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
A Blumenthal amendment to limit ammunition magazines to ten rounds also failed 46-54.
Blumenthal and Murphy drew some criticism during the gun-control debate for having families from the Newtown shooting at press conferences, lobbying on Capitol Hill, and filling the gallery during votes.
In May, Murphy called new NRA president Jim Porter “really kind of the wing nuts’ wing nut.”
“And he exposes what the NRA has really become. I mean, the NRA kind of announced this weekend they’re morphing into a paramilitary group, that essentially they’re going to be advocating for armed resistance to the U.S. government,” Murphy said. “…So, when you got an NRA president going out there and saying we need to arm Americans in order to fight our government, well, that sells a lot more guns and that means more dues into the NRA and that means a little bit bigger budget to play with.”
Before the Senate recessed last week, Reid told Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America that he expects the gun bill including the expanded background checks to return to the Senate floor — not anytime soon, but in time for midterms.
“I think sometime next year we’ll revisit that issue,” Reid said, according to The Nation. “I’m almost certain of it.”