House approves VAWA amid dispute over guns
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, attends a news conference alongside Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., left, after the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act on April 4 on Capitol Hill in Washington. PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) – The House voted on April 4 to reauthorize a 25-year-old law that helps victims of domestic and sexual violence, despite complaints by Republicans that Democrats were politicizing the popular law by expanding gun control.
The bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act includes a provision making it easier to take away guns from violent offenders even if they are not a spouse or domestic partner. The amendment closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a current or former dating partner from buying or owning a firearm.
Supporters said the measure was crucial to protect women in the United States, who die from gun violence at rates far higher than other high-income countries. But the National Rifle Association and some Republicans called the measure a political trap intended to portray gun-rights supporters as anti-women.
The House approved the bill, 263-158, sending it to the Senate. Thirty-three Republicans joined with Democrats to support the bill. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota was the only Democrat to oppose it.
According to the vote, three of the four representatives who are citizens of Native American nations voted for the reauthorization: Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, D-Kansas; Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico; and Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, R-Oklahoma.
The fourth representative – Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee Nation, R-Oklahoma – again voted against the act. Mullin is vice chair of the Native American caucus in the House.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of intentionally allowing the domestic violence law to expire in February despite bipartisan support for extending it.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the gun-control provisions were “common-sense reforms that will save lives and that no one should object to.”
Noting past Republican support for the law, Pelosi said, “There should be nothing partisan or political about ending the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault, which one in three women faces today.”
A spokeswoman for the NRA said the group “opposes domestic violence and all violent crime” and spends millions of dollars every year teaching Americans how to safely use firearms for self-defense.
“The gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are intentionally politicizing the Violence Against Women Act as a smoke screen to push their gun control agenda,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker, who called the actions of Democratic leaders “appalling.”
The NRA feels so strongly about the gun-control provision that it is evaluating the domestic violence law as a “key vote” that will help determine whether it will back a member a Congress for re-election.
Robin Lloyd, managing director of a gun-control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, said up to half of all domestic violence victims are abused by a dating partner, rather than a spouse or live-in boyfriend.
Lloyd called the gun-control amendment “truly a life-saving provision,” adding that gaps in federal law allowing abusers and stalkers to obtain guns are “a key driver of the staggering levels of lethal violence against women in the U.S.” An estimated 4.5 million women have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner, and nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner, Lloyd said.
Under current federal law, those convicted of domestic abuse can lose their guns if they are currently or formerly married to their victim, live with the victim, have a child together or are a victim’s parent or guardian. The proposed amendment would extend the provision to stalkers and current or former dating partners.