Here’s a tough question: Is it okay to deny gun rights by extending the definition of domestic abuse to non-married exes and stalkers? On one hand, your targeting a specific group of people who have a clearly defined link to aggressive behavior. On the other hand, you’re denying Constitutional rights to yet another group of people in a justice system that can often be manipulated. It isn’t completely cut-and-dry, but a new bill seeks to close the “boyfriend loophole” or the “stalker gap” in the current firearms law that would add those convicted of stalking or domestic abuse to the list of people included in the National Instant Check System.The bipartisan “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act” was submitted to the House of Representatives by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Dan Donovan (R-NY) on July 12th as H.R.3207. The bill clarifies the current law to increase protections for victims of domestic abuse, violence and stalking by barring convicted stalkers from buying or owning firearms and ensuring people who have abused dating partners are also prohibited from buying or owning firearms. Unfortunately, gaps in the federal Brady Handgun Violence Control Bill have repeatedly left domestic violence victims at risk of future violence. The original Brady Bill had no provisions for domestic violence offenders. This was rectified a few years later in an amendment that added the current language adding domestic abusers to the list of prohibited persons.
Currently, the law that prevents those with domestic abuse convictions from purchasing or owning a firearm only covers a certain people. To be exact, the people are prevented from purchasing a firearm when they are convicted of a state or federal domestic violence misdemeanor and “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”
Because of the specific wording of the law, people who are not married, have a child together, and do not live together are exempt from this law. Also, siblings, strangers, and offspring are all exempt from federal law. These exclusions have been addressed at state level in many states. Some states prohibit the purchase and ownership of firearms by people convicted of domestic violence regardless of their relationship to the victim. This is done by submitting their name to be added to the NICS system, or in the case of Illinois, by also preventing these people from owning a Firearm Owners Identification card (FOID). A few states even have provisions that call for a surrender of all arms and ammunition. Other states feature laws that allow victims to file for a protective order in which they can seek a court to remove the firearms and ammunition for someone who is an aggressor. Because many of the states have varying policies and some inefficiencies, it can be relatively easy for a domestic abuser to obtain a gun.
The new “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act” seeks to take the Brady Bill a small step further and ensure that all states prevent stalkers and abusers of dating partners from purchasing firearms. Though this is more restrictive than the current federal law, it is still more lax than most state laws, as it only adds two additional groups to the prohibited persons list. Though the text of the bill has yet to be submitted to the public, an earlier attempt by Dingell to pass a similar bill last year made the change by changing the wording to include “intimate partner” and inserting “convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of stalking” into the already established Brady bill.
Republican Congressman Donovan said this about the bill:
When I was District Attorney, the crimes that kept me up at night were the ones that could have been prevented. There are clear warning signs – including a stalking conviction – before somebody commits serious acts of violence against a current or estranged partner. It’s common sense to keep tools of violence out of their hands. I know from experience that this legislation will save lives, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Donovan went on to add that there have been over 40 different state laws passed in the passed decade to address the issue, five of which were passed just this year. This bill seeks to make a national standard for protecting these at-risk victims of domestic abuse form further firearm-related violence. Congresswoman Dingell added more:
No woman should ever live in fear for her life or safety because of domestic violence. In communities across the country, too many families experience senseless tragedies that could have been prevented. This bipartisan bill makes commonsense updates to our laws to protect survivors of dating abuse and stalking, and ultimately save lives.
Dingell and Donovan also released a fact sheet that added more background information regarding the additional risks faced by women who have suffered from domestic abuse. The fact sheet didn’t give any figures discussing male victimization, how many of the aggressors used firearms, or if the number of domestic abusers that go on to commit further firearm-related crimes against their former partners.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) submitted the companion bill (S.1539) to the Senate. The Senate bill is cosponsored by Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii, and gun-control stalwart Diane Feinstein of California. Judging by the selection of cosponsors, the bill may not have the same bipartisan support in the Senate.
Altogether, there needs to be more released about the bill before any definite lines can be drawn. The NRA-ILA, the branch of the National Rifle Association involved in legislation and lobbying efforts has yet release a statement or position on this new bill. Since it is so new, none of the other Gun Rights groups, like the Second Amendment Foundation or Gun Owners of America have made official statements on the issue. In the coming weeks, or as the bills progress further in Congress, we may learn more about these bills.