Can Congress Make It Harder for Abusive Dating Partners and Stalkers to Get Guns?
WASHINGTON – A self-described “proud Republican” and gun owner urged senators to close a loophole in federal legislation that allows violent domestic abusers and stalkers to buy firearms.
Elvin Daniel, a gun owner and member of the National Rifle Association, lost his sister, Zina, when she was shot and killed by her estranged and abusive husband in 2012. While holding back his tears, he recounted his sister’s story to a Senate panel.
“Zina loved life. All she wanted to be was to be a good mother for her two daughters,” Daniel told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It has been nearly two years since Zina was murdered, and it is heartbreaking to know that our weak gun laws continue to allow dangerous abusers to buy guns without background checks.”
Ms. Daniel obtained a permanent restraining order against Radcliffe Haughton after he continued to terrorize her even after the two had separated. Under federal law, people with a permanent restraining order cannot buy or own a gun. A gun-law loophole, however, allowed Haughton to purchase a handgun through Armslist.com, an online site devoted to the buying, selling, and trading of firearms – all without a background check on the buyer.
“To this day, I am convinced that the shooter deliberately bought the gun from an unlicensed seller because he knew he couldn’t pass a background check - and that if he hadn’t been able to buy this gun, Zina would still be alive,” Daniel said.
He called for legislation requiring background checks for all gun sales and making it harder for “abusive dating partners and stalkers” to obtain firearms.
“I believe most gun owners would agree with me that there should be a background check done on all gun sales,” Daniel said. “As a gun owner I certainly don’t want guns to fall in the hands of criminals or abusers because it makes the rest of us look bad.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) both have introduced bills that would strengthen federal laws to keep guns away from domestic abusers.
“In most states, somebody subject to a temporary restraining order can lose access to his house, to his children and to his car, but under federal law he can still keep his guns,” Blumenthal said. “Somebody might be considered too dangerous to see their son but not too dangerous to buy a handgun.”
Blumenthal’s bill would ban guns for those who have a temporary restraining order issued against them by a judge for domestic violence. Klobuchar’s bill would prohibit physically abusive dating partners and convicted stalkers from buying or owning a gun.
Until the hearing this week, it had been more than a year since lawmakers discussed the issue of gun policy and domestic violence in the Senate.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized the timing of the hearing, suggesting it was a political stunt because it was scheduled on a date closer to the November midterm elections, despite the numerous requests from domestic violence prevention groups several months ago.
“Only as we are about to head out of town with very few legislative days remaining has this hearing taken place,” he said.
Grassley, the only Republican on the committee at the hearing, said expanding the definition of prohibited people would not reduce gun homicides because there are very few stalking convictions.
“I fear that false hopes are again being raised,” he said. “In Maryland, for instance, zero were convicted of that crime last year, one in Arkansas, and five in New Mexico. Making these offenders prohibited persons will not accomplish very much.”
George Mason University law professor Joyce Malcolm said the bills under consideration “ride roughshod over” some of the “key rights” in the U.S. Constitution.
Blumenthal’s bill, she said, would allow the seizure of firearms from anyone subject to a temporary restraining order upon the filing of such a complaint.
“The police would be sent to search for, and forcibly seize, any firearms found in his possession. This is a serious infringement of due process, an Alice in Wonderland world in which, like the Red Queen, the new rule is ‘Sentence first! Verdict afterwards,’” Malcolm said.
She then offered criticism of Klobuchar’s, saying the bill is far too broad in its definition and would “net large numbers of innocent individuals” for a misdemeanor crime, such as stalking.
“The Klobuchar bill greatly expands the sorts of individuals who fall within its reach by adding the crime of stalking, a misdemeanor crime, and including a series of individuals who were or are non-co-habitating, those dating, formerly dating or known to the potential victim,” Malcolm said.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, estimates that 46 women are shot to death by a boyfriend or spouse every month.
Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, a nursing professor and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University, said the rate of homicides of women committed with guns in the U.S. exceeds the average rate in other industrialized nations by 11 times.
According to a Violence Policy Center analysis, more than 1,700 women were murdered by men in 2011. Of those homicides in which the weapon could be determined, 51 percent were committed with firearms.
Campbell noted that a survey of battered women indicated that when a firearm is present, a majority of abusers used the gun to threaten or injure the victim.
“Women who suffer abuse are among the most important for society to protect. Congress has an opportunity to do so by strengthening the laws to keep domestic abusers from getting guns. And ample scientific evidence shows that in doing so you will save lives,” she said.
Everytown for Gun Safety recently released an ad in the District of Columbia, Nevada, Arizona, and New Hampshire that called on three Republican senators to support legislation that would keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.