As states struggle to overcome the chokehold of the National Rifle Association on many issues of gun violence reform, there is one issue on which states have made great strides over the past few months — now that the NRA has changed its position and gotten behind reform.
On Tuesday, the Louisiana House unanimously passed a bill to bar gun possession under state law for those with a domestic violence conviction. The bill had already unanimously passed by the Senate, and will now go to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a bill into law that sets out the procedure for requiring those convicted of domestic violence offenses to surrender their weapons. And the month before that, Washington State passed a similar law requiring those served restraining orders in domestic violence cases to surrender their guns.
As the Huffington Post recently reported, the Washington State proposal had floundered for more than a decade because of fierce NRA opposition to blocking gun possession for anyone other than those convicted of a felony domestic violence offense. As political winds have started to shift in the wake of the Newtown Massacre, the NRA quietly changed its position over the past year, paving the way for these laws, and others in New Hampshire and Minnesota. The move also comes as the NRA launches a new effort to court women, dubbed NRA Women.
Several of these laws directly followed prominent fatalities involving domestic violence and guns. In Louisiana, that incident was the killing of 39-year-old Gwenn Cox Salley by her abusive husband, who then shot himself. The NRA’s retreat did pave the way for several significant victories in the gun violence prevention movement. But lawmakers did agree to soften their laws in exchange for the NRA’s support. In Washington, for example, those who have served with restraining orders initially had to surrender their guns to the government or a firearms dealer; now they can give them to friends.
About a third of women in the United States report that they have been a victim of domestic violence. And for women in particular, domestic violence is one of the biggest risks associated with gun ownership. A Violence Policy Center review of 2011 FBI crime data found that 94 percent of female homicide victims were murdered by a male they knew, and 61 percent of those killers were a spouse or intimate acquaintance. Female intimate partners were more likely to be killed by a gun than any other weapon.
Because of this risk, federal law already bars those convicted of a domestic violence offense from owning a gun, even a misdemeanor. But these federal laws are typically enforced only by federal officials, and questions remain about which state offenses even qualify for the purpose of federal law. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case decided this term clarified that the definition of qualifying state domestic violence offenses is broad, encompassing conduct that includes “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting.” What’s more, many states including New Hampshire have for years had no specific “domestic violence” offenses, making it difficult to pin those offenses to gun ownership. The New Hampshire bill that Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) says she is poised to sign would make domestic violence a distinct crime, allowing the state and federal government to better identify those individuals who should be barred from possessing a gun.
Even with these new laws extending federal protection to some states, there exist a number of gaps in federal domestic gun violence policy. While those with permanent domestic violence protective orders are barred from owning a gun, those with temporary protective orders are exempt. Last week, senators tentatively committed to re-introduce a bill on this subject next year, after former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D) issued a stern warning that “many of those who perpetrate violence against women are still allowed easy access to firearms.”