House GOP bill would make it easier for armed abusers to chase their victims

The House passed legislation that would make it easier for abusers to get weapons.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

House Republicans and several Democrats voted to pass a bill Wednesday that would hamper recent state efforts to curb domestic abusers’ access to guns.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons to travel across state lines with those weapons. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the bill is the first major piece of gun legislation passed by Congress since a gunman opened fire, killing 58 people at a Las Vegas country music festival in October. Almost one month later, on November 5, a lone gunman killed 26 people at a churchin Sutherland Springs, Texas, leaving 20 others injured.

Federal law prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence or those who have certain protective orders against them from buying guns. But it doesn’t address the guns that abusers already have and only accounts for spouses. In recent years, states like Washington and Massachusetts have begun to address that loophole with stronger protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. But, under the House bill, those protections could easily be circumvented.

“There has been a strong push in recent years for more legislation at the state level to protect victims of domestic violence and stalking,” said Kim Gandy, president of National Network to End Domestic Violence. “If this legislation passes [in the Senate], it will effectively toss out many of the state protections that we have won for victims and would allow stalkers and abusers to get concealed carry permits from states that they don’t even live in, and stalk and kill their victims, which is what we have been working hard to prevent.”

Gandy added that women who went to states to flee abusers will be out of luck.

“We know some victims flee intentionally to states with stronger gun laws, victims who have a specific fear of homicide, and this allows an abuser to get a permit online or by mail from a state with lax requirements and then all of her efforts to seek protection from gun homicides will be for naught,” she said.

The research on how guns enhance the likelihood of severe violence and homicide of domestic violence victims is well-established. Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be murdered if an abuser has access to a firearm, and there are collateral victims, including children and the domestic violence victim’s new partner. The most frequently reported collateral intimate partner homicide was the victim’s new partner.

In September, Spencer Hight, whose wife had recently filed for divorce and told her mother he had been violent with her, shot nine people and killed eight, including his wife Meredith Hight, at a football watch party in Plano, Texas. There have been many of these shootings in recent years, according to Everytown Gun Safety, a group that advocates for gun control. The organization looked at FBI data on mass shootings and found that from 2009 to 2016, 54.9 percent of incidents included victims who are the partner’s current partner, former partner, or family member —  one in four of those shootings involved the deaths of children. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings, which were defined by Everytown as incidents where four or more people are killed with a firearm, occurred in the home.

Research has also shown that states with statutes restricting people with domestic violence restraining orders from getting guns, had a reduction in intimate partner homicides. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in November found that states with “may-issue” laws (providing law enforcement with wider discretion in determining if they should issue concealed firearm carry permits or not) and “shall-issue” laws (allowing for greater ease in getting firearm carry permits) were associated with higher rates of firearm-related and handgun-related homicide.

“It just seems like sheer insanity to go backwards instead of forwards in terms of making victims of domestic violence safer,” said Julie Owens, an expert consultant on domestic violence matters who has worked with the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center. “To me, it demonstrates a real callousness from members of Congress.”  

Although there is certainly fear about guns being used for homicide, Owens said guns are generally used to threaten and harm women in a variety of ways, and that members of Congress should keep that in mind.

“I’ve had women tell me, ‘He plays Russian roulette with me and the kids.’ So victims are also threatened and wounded and so they have lifetime trauma, which is because of the presence of the firearms and the way abusers use them to intimidate people,” Owens said.

Gandy bemoaned the fact that another bill that would fill gaps in the National Criminal Instant Background Check system and hopefully prevent more pass shootings was merged into the concealed carry bill.

“The effort to tie this to [National Criminal Instant Background Check (NICS)] bill is very disappointing because that is an excellent bill and one that the community supports,” Gandy said. “To the extent we do have federal protections, it would get the names of those convicted of domestic abuse and increase the likelihood their names would be in federal system and be prohibited from purchasing firearms. We support that bill and the idea that it would be combined with such a terrible bill is very distressing to us.”

That may not happen in the Senate, however, CNN reported. On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “I support both of those bills but I recognize that if you combine them it makes it a lot harder to pass the consensus bill, which is the fix [NICS] bill.”