Democratic Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dignell grew up in a home that was under a constant threat of gun violence. “We don’t forget about hiding in closets,” she said during a speech in the House. “Or our father taking locks off of doors. Or my grabbing a gun from my father, so he wouldn’t kill my mother, and being convinced that we would die.”
Back in 2015, Rep. Dignell introduced a bill that later became a separate measure in the Violence Against Women (VAW) Act, which aims to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole”. Rep. Dignell’s provision expands prohibiting guns for people convicted of misdemeanors like stalking, as well as people with temporary restraining orders against them, and not just married partners. The measure is too late to save the Congresswoman and her siblings from the trauma of a violent childhood, but it could certainly save other women and children.
All of this brings us to the most recent headline-making massacre in my home state of Colorado. On Sunday, at a family birthday party in Colorado Springs, a man shot six people to death, including himself; he was allegedly a boyfriend of one of the female victims at the party. This latest tragedy comes just seven weeks after a gunman killed ten people at a Boulder supermarket.
According to Everytown Research & Policy, in more than half of mass shootings over the past ten years, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member in their murderous frenzy. Every month, about 57 women are shot and killed in an act of domestic violence in the United States. A million women alive today have reported being shot, or shot at, by their partners, former partners or a family member and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.
In mid-March, the House of Representativespassed a reauthorization of the 1994 legislation that provides victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence with resources. Some Republicans called the gun provisions “partisan”, as if gun violence cared what party lines victims voted on. In 2018, funding for the same legislation ran out when mostly Republican members of Congress couldn’t agree on (among other things) provisions related to gun ownership, including the boyfriend loophole.
The NRA is outright against the VAW for what would appear to be obvious reasons. When half of mass shootings are perpetrated by domestic abusers we are forced to ask the uncomfortable question: How many gun owners are also abusers, or abusers in training? When an abusive partner has access to a gun, a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed. That’s a statistic nobody should be comfortable with,
Of course, not all gun owners beat, threaten and shoot their family — far from it. Indeed, knowing that many decent people are gun-owners makes me wonder why so many on the right are against reasonable legislation that limits people from lawful gun ownership when they have a criminal record of violence or, say, a restraining order against them. And why do we see so much pushback when there are clear, statistical links to gun violence and domestic violence? Is the NRA worried that if the VAW act were passed by the Senate, then it would drastically limit the number of people able to purchase a firearm? If those people are domestic abusers, why is that a problem?
With targeted marketing campaigns, the NRA has attempted to sidestep uncomfortable links between intimate partner violence and guns, and police brutality against Black people and guns, but the numbers speak for themselves. With advertising campaigns like “Consider your man card reissued” by Bushmaster in 2009, gun makers are pandering to the insecurities of men and then arming them to the teeth. And by opposing reasonable gun legislation included in the VAW act, the NRA appears to be doing everything in its power to keep firearms in the hands of abusers.
If we don’t pressure our Senators to pass the VAW, along with the boyfriend loophole, the consequences are not difficult to predict. We will see many more shootings in what has already been a bloody start to the year. And women in America will have had their lives sacrificed for the comfort of men who would prefer to look the other way.