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Protect All Women

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Why We Need To Strengthen Gun Laws To Protect Women From Domestic Abuse

On September 11, 2008, Sarah Engle’s ex-boyfriend broke into her mother’s home, where he shot and killed her mother. Engle was then subjected to sexual and physical assault, and shot in the face. Sarah’s incredible survivorship is a testament to her strength, and she has since spoken at community events, on college campuses, and at political rallies to voice the realities of the intersection between domestic abuse and gun violence.

Earlier this afternoon, Engle was joined by another survivor of gun violence, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and other leaders in the movement, at an event discussing the intersection of domestic abuse and gun violence hosted by the Center for American Progress, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The event accompanied the release of a CAP report detailing how gun violence affects women and offering policy solutions to better protect them.

The simple fact is that weak gun laws in America make it too easy for domestic abusers and stalkers to get guns, and that means that too many women face a fatal end to domestic abuse. Every day, five women are murdered with a gun. In the last ten years, at least 34 percent of all women murdered were killed by an intimate partner, and more people use guns to commit those crimes than any other weapon (the figure is probably higher but we lack comprehensive data on it). More women have been murdered by an intimate partner with a gun since 2001 than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

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Despite the very serious nature of this issue, our laws are inadequate in addressing it. There are several steps we must take to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect all women and stem the tide of domestic abuse turned fatal because of guns.

1. Bar all convicted abusers, stalkers, and people subject to related restraining orders from possessing guns. While a number of states have some laws on the books to prevent convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, only 9 states prevent people convicted of misdemeanor stalking crimes from possessing guns. That means, in most states, you can be convicted of stalking and still walk into a store, pass a background check, and buy a gun. That puts women at greater risk. Another participant in today’s event, Senator Amy Klobuchar, has introduced common-sense legislation in the Senate to prevent gun violence by stalkers and protect victims.

2. Provide all records of prohibited abusers to the federal background check system. Even in the places where the laws appropriately bar domestic abusers and stalkers from possessing guns, states need to do a better job submitting their records into the national criminal background check database so that if a prohibited purchaser goes to buy a gun, they are denied. The authors of the CAP report, through a Freedom of Information Act request, found that “only three states appear to be submitting reasonably complete records” — and those states account for 79 percent of all records submitted to the database.

3. Require a background check for all gun sales. What does it matter if all abusers are correctly defined as prohibited purchasers, and all of their names are submitted to the national background check database, if these abusers can easily find a way to buy a gun without having to go through a background check through a gun show or online?

4. Ensure that abusers surrender any firearms they own once they become prohibited. Finally, laws must establish clear guidelines for law enforcement to ensure that those who have been convicted of a domestic violence crime and are required to surrender their guns actually do.

Passing most gun safety legislation in recent years has, sadly, been subject to the NRA’s approval. But on this issue, at least in several states that have passed laws this year, the NRA has not objected. It seems that perhaps even it thinks it wise, in this instance at least, to stop allowing dangerous people to have guns.

BOTTOM LINE: “After being raped and nearly killed with a firearm by my ex-boyfriend, I can tell you that women, particularly victims of domestic violence and stalking, are at an unacceptable risk of fatal gun violence,” Sarah Engle said at today’s event. “I survived for a reason: to tell my story and bring changes to this broken system. More needs to be done to protect abused women from gun violence and this report makes clear how we can do that.” It’s time that all of us, especially those with the power to change the laws, listen.

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