Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, speaks as Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, (left) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas (second from right) listen at a news conference after the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, speaks as Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, (left) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas (second from right) listen at a news conference after the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Editorial: Keep loophole closed in domestic violence act

The House has renewed the Violence Against Women Act, with added protections the Senate should keep.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The U.S. House on Thursday approved renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, the law first adopted in 1994 that assists the victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The act expired in February, although funding has been maintained in the interim, but its passage in the House now adds important language that will extend protection to the victims of abuse, assault and stalking by dating partners, the absence of which has been called the “boyfriend loophole.” Previously, only those convicted of domestic abuse who were married or previously married to the victim were subject to losing their rights to firearms possession.

Closure of the “boyfriend loophole,” however, now depends on whether it survives attempts to strip the provision in the Senate under threat of harassment of members of Congress by the National Rifle Association. The NRA had already notified House members that it was “scoring” the vote, a threat to use that vote against them in advertising and in the organization’s rating of their voting record. The measure passed regardless, 263-158.

The provision’s common sense defies its opposition by the NRA, which objects to the measure’s prohibition of gun sales to those found guilty of abuse and stalking misdemeanors and those subject to restraining orders.

A NRA spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, told The New York Times that for “many of those ‘offenses’ — and I’m using air quotes here — the behavior that would qualify as a stalking offense is often not violent or threatening; it involves no personal contact whatsoever.”

Baker’s “air quotes” don’t negate the seriousness of domestic violence, nor of stalking, especially since the potential loss of gun rights is based not on allegations but on convictions or a judge’s determination on the likelihood of a threat, which still requires a significant burden of evidence.

A conviction for stalking, even at a misdemeanor level, is not to be taken lightly; it often involves intimidation and implied or actual threats that should and are taken seriously by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Conviction of such actions can be a strong indicator for the potential threat of violence.

A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half — 55 percent — of female homicide victims were killed in connection to intimate partner violence. The study, which examined more than 10,000 homicides between 2003 and 2014, found that the largest proportion of female victims — 38 percent — were never married or were single at the time of death. Firearms were used in nearly 54 percent of the homicides of women.

Furthermore, abused women were five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owned a firearm, the gun safety group Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports. In 2011 alone, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners.

Thursday’s House vote on the Violence Against Women Act and the coming vote in the Senate could provide a measure of the NRA’s hold over members of Congress, Republicans in particular.

Still the leading gun-rights advocate in the U.S., the NRA may have lost some pull with mainstream Americans and even gun owners. The association reported that its income declined $55 million in 2017, which represents a loss of membership dues as well as a decline in donations and advertising from firearms manufacturers who are seeing their own decline in sales because of the so-called “Trump slump.”

At the same time, support is building for more stringent firearms laws. Between March 1-4, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that 60 percent surveyed said they supported stricter gun laws in the U.S.; including 33 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats. That’s up from levels of support for such laws during the Obama administration that ranged between 47 percent and 54 percent.

Members of the Senate should take note of where support now lies and adopt the House’s renewal of the Violence Against Women Act; with the “boyfriend loophole” closed for good.

The opponents of stricter firearms laws frequently ask why the rights of law-abiding gun owners should be subject to background checks and other restrictions. Yet here’s an example of a law where the rights of law-abiding gun owners are not being infringed upon. Those convicted of domestic violence, abuse, assault, harassment and stalking — regardless of relationship status — are not abiding by our laws, and should not have possession of firearms.

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