July 30, 2014

Judiciary Committee Examines the Effect of Gun Violence on Women in America

Washington, DC – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “VAWA Next Steps: Protecting Women from Gun Violence.”  With American women more than ten times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other industrialized countries, the hearing examined whether changes to federal law could help to better protect women from gun violence. 

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired the hearing, and started things off by sharing the story of Rhode Islander Carmen Cruz, who was shot by an ex-boyfriend in front of her son in 1999.  “Today, Ms. Cruz is a passionate advocate in Rhode Island’s domestic violence community, but her scars serve as a constant reminder that, as a survivor, she is one of the lucky ones,” Whitehouse said.  “What we are here to consider is how guns in domestic violence situations threaten American women, and how best to ensure that those who should not possess guns do not possess them.”

Thanks to the leadership of Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Congress last year re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – strengthening the law and providing important new protections for victims of domestic violence.  Today’s hearing explored further improvements to the law that could be made in the future, particularly with respect to gun violence. 

Under current federal law, individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors are not allowed to possess or purchase a gun – but the term “domestic violence” only applies to crimes committed by spouses, co-habitating partners, or co-parents.  Abusive dating partners are responsible for killing more women in America than spouses, but are not covered by the domestic violence restriction on gun ownership.  Convicted stalkers are also free to own guns, despite the fact that stalking is a proven predictor of violence.  Our national background check system is also frequently evaded by individuals not allowed to purchase firearms by law.

“Closing the dating partner loophole would save lives, plain and simple,” Whitehouse said in his opening remarks. 

Witnesses testifying today were Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Anna D. Wolf Chair, The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing; Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, Racine County, Wisconsin; Elvin Daniel, brother of a domestic gun violence victim; Professor Joyce Malcolm, George Mason Law School; and Justice Seamus McCaffery of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Mr. Daniel began his testimony by noting that he is a Republican and a member of the National Rifle Association who also supports common-sense gun laws.  He continued, “I am here today to speak for my sister, Zina, because she is not here to speak for herself… On October 21, 2012, I received a phone call that no one should ever have to receive, telling me that Zina had been shot and killed by her estranged and abusive husband.  We later learned that the shooter had bought the gun through Armslist.com, an irresponsible Internet site that does not require background checks… If he had tried to buy a gun from a licensed gun dealer, he would have been required to take a background check.  He would have failed that background check, and the gun store wouldn’t have sold him a gun… I have to live the rest of my life knowing that a simple background check might have stopped that gun sale and saved my sister’s life.”

Dr. Campbell reviewed the latest data on the frequency of guns in domestic violence situations and closed by noting that, “[W]omen 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.”

Sheriff Schmaling echoed that point, recalling that, “When an abuser has a gun, the victims say to me, ‘Sheriff, it is not a question of if he’ll use the gun to abuse me; it’s a question of when.’”

Among the legislative proposals discussed today were Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, which would close the dating partner loophole; and Senator Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act, which would ensure that individuals under temporary restraining orders would not be allowed to purchase or possess guns.  Witnesses also called for Senators to support legislation to strengthen background checks for gun purchases.


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921