Over 250 people gathered inside the Dirksen Senate building on Wednesday to support legislation aimed at decreasing intimate partner homicide through gun violence.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired the standing-room only Senate Judiciary Committee hearing – which required an overflow room – and was joined by Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
“As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how domestic violence and stalking can destroy lives and tear apart families,” Klobuchar said. “My legislation would help protect victims and keep our families safe, and I will continue to work to pass this commonsense bill.”
Current federal law restricts domestic violence offenders’ access to firearms, but loopholes in the law have allowed abusers to gain access to guns – often with tragic results. Elvin Daniel, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his sister Zina who was murdered by her estranged husband and abuser. Zina had a restraining order against her murderer, who “continued to terrorize Zina, slashing her tires while she was at work, and threatening her physically.” Then, in 2012, he purchased a gun – without a background check –through an online gun seller. The very next day after receiving the weapon, he “stormed into the spa where Zina worked in Brookfield, Wisconsin,” where “he shot and killed Zina, murdered two other women, and injured four others before killing himself.”
The national gun lobby defeated bipartisan legislation last year that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales. Websites like the one Zina’s shooter used to purchase a gun often connect buyers with unlicensed sellers, a problem still in need of a solution.
Women fleeing domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to increased violence and death. Senator Blumenthal introduced the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act (S. 2483) in June to prevent domestic violence abusers served with temporary orders of protection from owning firearms. Blumenthal named the law after Lori Jackson, a mother of two, who was shot and killed by her estranged husband. Jackson had fled her home and obtained a temporary order of protection. She was murdered by her husband with a legally-possessed firearm only one day before the court was to hold hearings on a permanent order of protection, that if granted would have prevented him from possessing the gun.
Senator Blumental, along with Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) has also introduced legislation to strengthen the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which prevents abusers convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence assault from owning a firearm. Legislation has also been introduced by Senator Klobuchar that would provide victims of dating violence and stalking with the same legal protections as victims of domestic violence. Senator Blumenthal commented at the hearing that “federal law is a shadow of what it should be,” and called on Congress not only to set the standard but to give incentives and punishments to states to ensure that federal legislation aimed at preventing domestic violence homicide, is enforced.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries, and victims of domestic violence who live in homes with guns have an 8-fold increase in homicide risk.
Media Resources: US Senate Judiciary Committee; Congress.gov; National Network to End Domestic Violence; Senator Tim Kaine 7/29/14; Huffington Post 6/17/14; Ms. Blog 3/26/14; New York Times 4/17/13;