Why Won’t We Keep Guns Away From Domestic Abusers?

By Tammy Young

ROUND ROCK, TX: It has been decades since I was held at gunpoint by an abusive boyfriend. It is a trauma that never leaves you.

I tried everything I could think of to calm him down and reassure him that I would never leave him.  But, he knew I would leave the first moment I possibly could. And so, for two days, he held us hostage. Sometimes waving his gun in the air, sometimes laying it on the coffee table strategically pointed in my direction, and sometimes screaming and putting the gun to my head. 

When he ran out of cigarettes, he demanded I get a new pack at the convenience store around the corner. He made me leave my son with him to make sure I came back and that I didn’t call the police. Like so many survivors, I didn’t call the police and it would be years before I told a single person about these two days of terror.

This seems like an extreme situation, one I’m sure most people think could never happen to them. But the data on gun violence says it’s all too common. More than half of the women in the U.S. killed by guns are murdered by their partner. That’s 50 women, every month, who are shot and killed by a current or former boyfriend or spouse, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

That’s why the debate around the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is so deeply troubling to me. I somehow managed to stay alive and ultimately escape that relationship but so many women are not that lucky.

Republicans in the Senate have blocked a vote on VAWA because it closes a glaring loophole—the so-called “boyfriend loophole”—by stopping convicted stalkers and abusive dating partners from possessing or buying a gun. 

You might, like me, be wondering how this could possibly be controversial.

Current law, passed on a bipartisan basis in 1996, bars domestic abusers who are married to or living with their partners or who have children with them from owning a gun. But we now know this law left a dangerous loophole that allows convicted stalkers and violent dating partners to get a gun at will. 

Today, Republicans in the Senate and the gun lobby claim that closing the loophole would somehow violate Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights. 

That is nonsense. As a born and raised Texan, I believe in the 2nd Amendment, but I also believe we can uphold the Constitution while keeping women safe. No domestic abuser should have a gun, as the Supreme Court stated clearly in upholding the current law in a 6-2 decision in 2016.

And this is not an academic argument. The facts on domestic violence show that thousands of women’s lives are at stake.

Research shows that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.

The sheer number of women killed by a former or current romantic partner is stunning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of the 10,018 women murdered in the United States from 2003 to 2014 were killed by their partner.

But it’s not just the “boyfriend loophole” at stake. In holding up the reauthorization of VAWA, the GOP-controlled Senate is delaying a critical piece of legislation that has fundamentally changed our view of domestic violence. VAWA has helped bring domestic violence out the shadows, where it used to be dealt with quietly as a “family issue.” The law created a national domestic violence hotline and invested in training and programs to prevent domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Since it went into effect, we have seen significant reductions in domestic violence and a far more aggressive stance from law enforcement intent on stopping it. 

How has Congress become so captured by the gun lobby that we are debating the merits of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers?  Why do we continue to elect politicians who are more concerned about their re-election than doing what is so obviously right?

It’s time for the Senate to move quickly to reauthorize VAWA and close this dangerous loophole once and for all.

Tammy Young is a Round Rock, TX City Councilwoman and a candidate for Congress in Texas’ 31st Congressional District.