Every year, thousands of domestic abusers fall through the cracks of our current background check system, often with tragic consequences for the women they terrorize. The “gun show loophole,” which the Senate is considering closing as part of a gun reform package, allows violent individuals who are banned from buying or owning a gun to easily skip background checks through private sales.
Technically, under the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, people who have committed a misdemeanor of domestic violence or are the subject of a restraining order are prohibited from buying or owning a gun. Yet it is all too easy for convicted abusers looking to punish or kill their targets to get their hands on weapons. Over 90 percent of female homicide victims are killed by someone they know, and 76 percent of these victims were stalked before their deaths. Guns are the most common weapon used in these murders.
Moreover, federal gun bans are so narrowly defined that many abusers can pass a background check to buy guns legally. For instance, current federal law does not disqualify convicted stalkers from buying guns. Federal domestic abuse protections also do not extend to people who were not married, related to, cohabitated, or had a child with their abuser. A new bill introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) would extend the gun ban to people who abused a dating partner, a relatively common occurrence.
Access to guns all but ensures that an abusive situation turns fatal. Domestic abusers who have access to firearms are over 7 times more likely to kill their partners. From 2009 to 2012, 40 percent of mass shootings started with the shooter targeting his girlfriend, wife or ex-wife. Meanwhile, in states that require a background check for private handgun sales, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners.
Behind these statistics are countless women the law failed to protect from a clear threat. Below is a sample of their stories:
Zina Daniel took out a restraining order against her husband after three years of abuse. The restraining order should have prevented her husband, Radcliffe Haughton, from buying a gun. Regardless, Haughton was able to skip a background check by buying a gun on the internet, which he used to shoot 7 people the very next day. He murdered Zina and two of her coworkers before shooting himself. In a new ad for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Zina’s brother, Elvin Daniel, makes an emotional plea for stricter background checks that could have kept Haughton from buying that gun.
Jitka Vesel was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Demetry Smirnov, outside her office on April 13, 2011. Smirnov, as a Canadian citizen, should not have been able to buy a gun, yet purchased a handgun from a private dealer via a gun exchange website, Armslist.com. Jitka’s brother and best friend have sued the website for facilitating illegal gun sales.
Johanna Justin-Jinich, a student at Wesleyan University, met Stephen Morgan at an NYU summer program. Morgan, a fervent anti-Semite, began stalking and harassing Johanna, who was Jewish. A few months after she filed a harassment complaint with the police, Morgan shot Johanna seven times at the bookstore where she worked. Morgan did not have a permit for the gun he used.
Christin Stock filed a protective order against her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Calvert, just five days before she was found murdered in her home. Calvert had already been convicted of stalking another woman in 1995. Despite the prior conviction and the protective order that should have compelled him to give up his guns, Calvert was able to buy the two guns, a stun gun, and ammunition that he used to kill his ex-girlfriend and himself.
Yvonne Flores was stalked by her neighbor, Anthony Medina, for nearly two years before he was arrested. Medina would follow Yvonne and her husband everywhere, prompting her to get a temporary restraining order against him. Two weeks after Medina made bail, he waited in Yvonne’s driveway and shot her twice as she was returning from the store. Medina then killed himself.
The Senate will soon debate universal background checks as part of a gun reform package, which would require all private sales to use background checks. However, Capp’s bill to tighten restrictions on gun ownership by convicted abusers within the existing system will not be part of the final package. Both measures will face staunch Republican opposition. Repeating a conspiracy theory from the National Rifle Association, many Republicans claim the background check system could lead to a national gun registry that the government could potentially use to confiscate guns and establish a dictatorship. Should these measures die because of this baseless hypothesis, millions of women will continue to live in fear of dying at the hands of their abusers.