Why Congress Needs to Act on the New Bipartisan Bill to Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Abusers and Stalkers

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

It’s true.

When it comes to gun violence in our country, the problem is not really the guns themselves; the problem is that our laws make it too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on them.

We need to do everything we can to make sure dangerous people don’t have easy access to guns — including taking some commonsense steps to close the loopholes that let two groups of people get their hands on them: people who abuse their dating partners, and stalkers.

For the first time ever, there’s now a bipartisan solution before Congress.

This morning, two leaders in Congress — a Democrat and a Republican — introduced new legislation that would make our communities safer places to live for women and their families. By closing the loopholes that let abusers and stalkers legally get guns, it would help protect domestic violence victims. It wouldn’t prevent every tragedy, but it would make a difference — and save lives.

Here’s why Congress should act.

Our Country Has A Problem with Gun Violence Against Women

We have a problem with gun violence against women and their families in our country — one that is unique among nations like ours — and we know that domestic abuse and guns are a lethal mix.

The facts:

Women in America are eleven times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other democratic countries with developed economies.

We also know that there is a fatal link between domestic abuse and gun violence. In domestic abuse situations, if the abuser has access to a gun, the woman is five times more likely to die.

And there is a strong connection between gun murders of women and intimate partner violence: when women are murdered with a gun, most of the time it’s by someone they know — either by a family member or an intimate partner, like a former or current husband or boyfriend.

From 2001 to 2012, more women in our country were shot to death by an intimate partner than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. That is a national shame.

It’s a sadly common story in our country: a woman’s former or current partner gains access to guns and shatters the lives of women, children, and families.

You’ve probably seen the headlines — far too many of them.

It’s taken a toll on our country and our communities. It must change.

Why Are So Many of America’s Women Murdered with a Gun?

It’s hard to deny that we have a problem. So why are so many of America’s women being murdered with guns? One big reason is that we have two big loopholes in our laws that make it too easy for dangerous abusers and stalkers to buy a gun:

  • People Who Abuse Their Dating Partners Can Get Guns: Currently, federal law prevents people who are under domestic violence protection orders or have misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from accessing guns. But even though increasing numbers of couples are choosing to marry later in life, the law hasn’t been extended to address dating partner abuse.
  • Some Convicted Stalkers Can Get Guns: Even though one study of women who had been murdered found that 76 percent of them had been stalked in the year preceding their death, under federal law people who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking — even if they plead down from a felony charge — can legally buy a gun.

With Congress Refusing to Act, Leaders in the States Are Passing Strong Bipartisan Laws

Fortunately, many leaders recognize the problem and that these gaps in our laws play a role in the high rate of gun violence against women, are working together to find some solutions.

The momentum is on the side of commonsense, bipartisan action.

Since 2008, states have enacted over 30 new laws addressing the nexus of guns and domestic violence. Many of them have been approved in overwhelmingly bipartisan states — exactly the kind of solutions in the middle that we need.

In 2014 alone, six states — two of them with Republican controlled-legislatures — enacted laws to protect domestic violence victims: Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The push for stronger laws that help protect women and families from gun violence has continued in 2015. Already, leaders in Alabama, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington have passed legislation to help protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hands of their abusers.

In the states, Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the problem, looked at the inaction in Washington, and decided to do something about it. Leaders in Congress could take a cue from their counterparts in states legislatures around the country.

Now It’s Time for Congress To Follow Suit and Pass a Bipartisan Law

Faced with laws that don’t do enough to keep guns away from domestic abusers and stalkers, leaders from both sides of the aisle in statehouses around the country chose commonsense change over the status quo. Congress should follow suit.

Congress has the power to do it. And now Congress has a solution.

The new legislation, authored by Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Republican Congressman Robert Dold of Illinois, is the first-ever bipartisan bill in Congress that addresses the link between domestic abuse, stalking, and gun violence against women. Called the “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act,” it would make two small, commonsense changes to our current laws:

  1. Update our laws to include violence against dating partners as domestic abuse; and,
  2. Ensure that people convicted of misdemeanor stalking can’t legally buy a gun.

This is the kind of moderate, commonsense solution that this problem demands.

Solutions Like These Respect the Second Amendment Rights of Law-Abiding, Responsible Americans — And Make It Harder for Abusers and Stalkers to Get Guns

These kinds of commonsense ideas do not infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.

People who abuse their dating partners and engage in stalking are not law-abiding citizens, and we would all be safer if we took some bipartisan steps to make it harder for them to get guns — all the while respecting the rights of responsible, law-abiding Americans to buy, own, and use firearms.

Bipartisan Action Will Have to Overcome the Special Interests in Washington

Still, getting Congress to act won’t be easy — not in a debate about our gun laws that is too dominated by the extremes, too polarized, and too partisan.

Doing more to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and stalkers will take some courage. It will demand some really hard work. And it will require overcoming the power of the powerful special interest lobbies in Washington, who continue to fight against these commonsense laws.

But our country — and Congress — can’t wait any longer. Women’s lives are at stake, and it’s time for Congress to stand up for common sense — and responsibility.