NRA’s strength be­ing tested by new do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pro­vi­sion

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Sh­eryl Gay Stolberg

WASH­ING­TON – The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, the na­tion’s largest gun lobby, has set­tled on its next tar­get on Capi­tol Hill: block­ing Congress from reau­tho­riz­ing the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that as­sists vic­tims of do­mes­tic and sex­ual vi­o­lence.

The House is set to vote on the leg­is­la­tion this week. The law ex­pired in Fe­bru­ary. But the bill in­cludes a new pro­vi­sion – aimed at curb­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence by ex­pand­ing law en­force­ment’s abil­ity to strip do­mes­tic abusers of their guns – that the NRA does not like.

The mea­sure closes the so­called boyfriend loop­hole by bar­ring those con­victed of abus­ing, as­sault­ing or stalk­ing a dat­ing part­ner or those sub­ject to a court re­strain­ing or­der from buy­ing or own­ing firearms.

Un­der cur­rent fed­eral law, those con­victed of do­mes­tic abuse can lose their guns if they are – or were formerly – mar­ried to their vic­tim, live with their vic­tim, have a child with their vic­tim or are a par­ent or guardian of their vic­tim. The pro­posed pro­vi­sion would ex­tend those who can be con­victed of do­mes­tic abuse to in­clude stalk­ers and cur­rent or for­mer boyfriends or dat­ing part­ners.

Jen­nifer Baker, a spokes­woman for the NRA, said 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.” She ar­gues that the new pro­vi­sion is “too broad and ripe for abuse.”

“Like if you were send­ing ha­rass­ing mes­sages to some­body on Facebook, to some­body you never met or some­body you dated five years ago,” she said, adding, “How it’s writ­ten right now, you could be con­victed for a mis­de­meanor stalk­ing of­fense for a tweet that causes some­one emo­tional dis­tress and then you would be pro­hib­ited from own­ing a firearm.”

Oth­ers find the NRA’s ar­gu­ment far-fetched.

“A sin­gle tweet or Facebook mes­sage, with­out sig­nif­i­cant other con­duct, would or­di­nar­ily not be enough” to re­sult in a con­vic­tion for stalk­ing, said David Keck, direc­tor of the Na­tional Re­source Cen­ter on Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence and Firearms, which takes no po­si­tion on the new do­mes­tic vi­o­lence act pro­vi­sion.

And times have changed for the gun lobby. A wave of fresh­man Democrats in Congress were elected on a prom­ise to en­act new gun re­stric­tions and they proudly cam­paigned against the NRA. “The No. 1 way that women are be­ing killed with guns is by their beloveds, their boyfriends, their sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers,” said one of those fresh­man Democrats, Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia. “I am not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the rhetoric of the NRA be­cause I can’t be dis­tracted. What’s most im­por­tant is putting forth good leg­is­la­tion to save as many lives as we can.” McBath’s son, Jor­dan Davis, was shot to death in 2012.

Roughly half of all fe­male homi­cide vic­tims are killed by what ex­perts call “in­ti­mate part­ners” – mean­ing cur­rent or for­mer spouses or dat­ing part­ners – ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. And about half of in­ti­mate part­ner homi­cides in­volved dat­ing re­la­tion­ships, ac­cord­ing to Keck.

The “boyfriend loop­hole” pro­vi­sion is “a re­fo­cus on should we be just look­ing at do­mes­tic part­ners or should we be look­ing more broadly at in­ti­mate part­ners?” he said.

Stud­ies also show that do­mes­tic abusers with guns in­flict a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of vi­o­lence on their part­ners and that the vic­tims are over­whelm­ingly fe­male. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm, ac­cord­ing to the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence, a gun safety group. Roughly three-quar­ters of all in­ti­mate part­ner mur­der vic­tims were also vic­tims of stalk­ing by their part­ners, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Vic­tims of Crime.

“The share of homi­cides com­mit­ted by dat­ing part­ners has been in­creas­ing for three decades,” said Shan­non Watts, who founded Moms De­mand Ac­tion for Gun Sense in Amer­ica, a group that sup­ports tighter gun laws, in re­sponse to the mas­sacre at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in Con­necti­cut in 2012. “Women are now as likely to be killed by dat­ing part­ners as by spouses with guns.”

The reau­tho­riza­tion bill has one Repub­li­can co-spon­sor, Rep. Brian Fitz­patrick of Penn­syl­va­nia. Rep. Kevin Mc­Carthy, R-Calif., the House Repub­li­can leader, is urg­ing Congress to ex­tend the law for the rest of the year to con­tinue fund­ing ser­vices to sur­vivors at cur­rent lev­els.

Baker, of the NRA, ac­cused Democrats of “play­ing pol­i­tics” with the bill by in­sert­ing the so-called boyfriend pro­vi­sion as a “poi­son pill” so that Democrats can por­tray Re­pub­li­cans who vote against it as an­ti­woman.

The NRA has de­cided to “score” the vote on the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act, mean­ing it will keep track and pub­lish how law­mak­ers vote in an ef­fort to ei­ther re­ward or de­feat them in the next elec­tion. While the move is not likely to keep the bill from pass­ing the House, it does make it more likely that the “boyfriend loop­hole” pro­vi­sion will be stripped from the act when the mea­sure ar­rives in the Sen­ate.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Amy Lap­pos, a for­mer con­gres­sional aide, said then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den touched her in­ap­pro­pri­ately at a 2009 fundraiser, the se­cond woman to make al­le­ga­tions against Bi­den in the past week.

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