Even before I was a member of the Washington State Senate, I was a prosecutor in Washington’s largest county and a founder of an anti-domestic violence organization, Chaya. I’ve seen the pain and loss that occurs where domestic violence and firearms intersect. These tragedies, often overlooked by the news media and left out of the headlines, are key to understanding what gun violence looks like in our country.
Millions of women have been threatened with firearms by abusers. In an average month, 50 women in America are shot to death by their abusive partners. Many mass shootings involve incidents of domestic violence. For too long, our country has left loopholes in place which make it too easy for individuals with a history of violence to get their hands on guns.
But we can fix our laws and save lives. In Washington, we’ve already put legislation in place to do that.
In 2014, voters in this state passed Initiative 594, which expanded background checks to include all gun sales. That simple change fixed a problem in our law which made it all too easy for abusers to access firearms by simply going to a gun show or meeting someone in a parking lot. We know that background checks make a difference and help keep guns out of the hands of abusers. Ever since the Brady Bill established an infrastructure for background checks, our country has helped to keep people safe; hundreds of thousands of gun sales to abusers have been prevented by those background checks.
We didn’t stop with Initiative 594. In 2016, Washington State passed Initiative 1491 enacting Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). Extreme Risk Protection Orders allow families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual is threatening harm to themselves or others. This has been a crucial tool for families dealing with domestic violence.
There are still loopholes in our system and we have to do more to save lives. When I entered the Washington State Legislature in 2018, there was no law in place preventing someone convicted of harassment of a family or household member from owning a gun. Abusers were allowed, under the law, to threaten, intimidate, and coerce their families and partners, with no impact on their ability to purchase a gun, even when they were convicted of doing so by a court.
In 2018, I sponsored a bill, SB 6298, to change that. That bill is now law, and survivors of abuse are safer because of it.
Across the country, state legislatures have an important role to play in doing more to prevent those with a history of violence from accessing firearms. Along with SB 6298, ERPO, and similar laws that prevent violent and dangerous people from accessing firearms, state legislators can ensure that protective orders are being enforced, that there is follow up from law enforcement, and that survivors are getting the legal help they need to stay safe. Addressing logistical issues in our various databases to ensure they are updated and accurate is key.
State legislators are empowered to work in the best interests of our constituents. Keeping every member of our communities safe from gun violence must be a part of what we do.
Washington State Senator Manka Dhingra represents the 45th District. Prior to being elected, Senator Dhingra was a co-founder of Chaya, an organization that assists survivors of domestic violence.