A common thing we hear at NCADV is, “We need better laws to protect domestic violence victims.” And we couldn’t agree more. That’s why NCADV has a public policy office to influence legislators when they are considering bills and laws that impact the lives of domestic violence survivors. Many voices are better than one, especially when it comes to lobbying for change with our Nation’s leaders. So, how do you lobby to create the change you want to see in the world?
In a series of blog posts, we’ll be discussing how to effectively lobby Congress on behalf of domestic violence survivors, victims, and advocates on critical issues. In the first two posts of the series, we examined grassroots lobbying and how to master the art of lobbying. But, what exactly are you lobbying for? Why not start with an issue critical to the safety of domestic violence victims and survivors across the United States?
In the third post of our series, “Domestic Violence and Firearms,” you will learn…
- the lethal intersection of domestic violence and firearms
- the current federal domestic violence laws in place and the gaps they present to the safety of victims
- 9 specific changes to federal laws that would increase protection for victims
Domestic Violence and Firearms:
A Lethal Combination
Domestic violence and firearms are a lethal combination. The facts and statistics speak for themselves:
- The presence of a firearm in an intimate partner violence situation increases the risk of homicide by at least 500%.
- 44% of mass shootings (in which four or more people were killed) involved intimate partners between 2008 and 2013.
Women are especially vulnerable when it comes to the deadly intersection of domestic violence and gun violence.
- Approximately 1,000 women are murdered annually by intimate partners, and two-thirds of them are killed with guns.
- A woman is killed by an intimate partner wielding a gun roughly every 14 hours.
- Almost half (48.6%) of women killed by intimate partners were killed by dating partners.
Firearms are also used to control, terrorize and intimidate victims and survivors victims and survivors of domestic violence. A survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that, among the 16% of respondents whose abusers had firearms …
- 10% said their abuser had fired a gun during a domestic violence incident.
- 22% said their abuser had explicitly threatened to kill them, their children, families, pets, friends, and/or to commit suicide.
- 67% said they believed their abusers were capable of killing them.
Federal Domestic Violence Laws: What They Cover, and What They Don’t
Current federal law (specifically the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment (18 USC 922 (g)(8) and (9))) prohibits abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and abusers subject to permanent protective orders from owning firearms. While this protects some victims and survivors, it leaves others vulnerable. The abuse in these cases is often felony-level violence but is pled down. The violence in these situations can escalate rapidly. Additionally, perpetrators may be convicted of one incident, but because domestic violence is a pattern, it can be assumed there have been multiple other incidents the victim did not report or that didn’t result in a criminal conviction. It’s worth noting that under this law, an intimate partner is defined as a current or former spouse, current or former cohabitant, or person with whom the abuser shares a biological child (18 USC 921(a)(32 & 33)). Unless a victim falls into one of those categories, the law doesn’t apply — leaving millions of domestic violence victims vulnerable.
The original bill was written over twenty years ago and reflects what people knew at the time about domestic violence. We’ve learned a lot since then, and as time goes on, it is evident there are some serious gaps in the current law.
Domestic violence occurs in dating relationships as well as within marriage.. The rate of marriage has declined steeply over the last 50 years. People, particularly young people, are dating longer than in previous generations, and as people get married later in life, dating violence will continue to rise. Roughly half of domestic violence homicide victims were killed by dating partners, indicating that dating violence can be equally fatal as domestic violence.
Stalking is defined by the federal government as a course of conduct directed at someone that “places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person; an immediate family [member] . . . of that person; or a spouse or intimate partner of that person; or causes, attempts to cause, or would reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress . . .” to the person, a family member or an intimate partner. Former and current intimate partners often use stalking to terrorize their victims; 66% of women and 41% of men who were stalked report being stalked by intimate partners. Stalking is a key indicator of escalation and lethality risk. In one study that examined ten cities, 76% of women murdered by intimate partners were stalked prior to the homicide, and overall, 85% who survived murder attempts were stalked.
These aren’t the only gaps presented by the current federal law. For example, a person under a permanent restraining order is not permitted to own firearms, but people under a temporary restraining order are exempt from this restriction. Other gaps exist for various reasons. Local records often do not contain sufficient detail to flag offenders because they lack proper funding, or offenders can bypass the background check system by purchasing firearms at gun shows or through a private seller.
9 Changes to Federal Laws That Would Help Victims and Survivors
Federal gun laws are essential for protecting the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence. NCADV supports strengthening gun safety laws to protect all victims and survivors, including dating partners, stalking victims and survivors, and people who have been granted an ex parte protective orders. We urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to support legislation and, where possible, take executive action, to:
- Expand the definition of intimate partner in 18 USC 921 (a)(32) to include dating partners
- Expand the prohibitor in USC 18 922 (g)(8) to include ex parte/temporary orders
- Add misdemeanor stalking to the disqualifying crimes in USC 18 922(g)
- Require background checks for all gun sales and transfers
- Require the FBI and the ATF to notify local law enforcement and the intimate partner when a prohibited purchaser attempts to acquire a firearm
- Encourage states to adopt effective firearm surrender and removal protocols in domestic violence cases
- Reinstate the assault weapon ban
- Expand the window for FBI background checks to reduce default-proceed sales
- Create a gun restraining order that would temporarily prohibit a person from purchasing a firearm if s/he is a danger to him/herself and/or others
As we’ve seen in this post, firearms and domestic violence present a lethal combination. While there are some federal laws in place that protect victims, they reflect an outdated understanding of domestic violence and require an expansion to fully protect victims. We’ve also reviewed 9 specific changes to the federal law that would help this expansion. Even more can be done to support victims and survivors by increasing funding to specific agencies.
What’s Next: Federal Funding for Domestic Violence
In the next post of our Lobbying for Change series, “Federal Funding for Domestic Violence Programs,” we’ll be learning more about increasing funding at the federal level. By the time you finish reading that blog post, you will …
- understand the federal budget process
- know the three federal funding sources available to DV programs
- be able to explain why an increase in funding is necessary for these programs