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Why Won’t the Senate Pass the Violence Against Women Act?

20.04.02 SOC Ernst Blog visuals

Every year, more than 600 women are shot and killed by intimate partners—but the NRA wants domestic abusers and stalkers to keep their guns.

The House strengthened the Violence Against Women Act

April 4, 2020 marks 365 days since the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This keystone legislation to protect women from domestic abuse has been a lifeline for survivors since it was first passed in 1994. It has always been bipartisan.

But something was missing in the original bill: specific provisions to protect women from the deadly nexus of guns and domestic violence. Last year, for the first time, the bill included those provisions, namely:

  • Closing the “Boyfriend Loophole” — Current federal law does not prohibit perpetrators who abused current or former dating partners from having firearms, even though more than half of all intimate partner homicides committed by dating partners.
  • Closing the “Stalker Loophole” — Current federal law only prohibits individuals convicted of felony stalking from accessing guns. People convicted of misdemeanor stalking can still legally obtain guns, even though many first-time offenses are pleaded down from felonies.

Without these provisions, far too many dangerous people can fall through the cracks, keep their firearms—or buy new ones—and go on to commit more acts of violence.

The NRA wants domestic abusers to keep their guns

The gun violence provisions in the House bill were supported by more than 30 Republicans. One year later, however, the bill remains stalled in the Senate. Why hasn’t this bipartisan bill gone anywhere?

The National Rifle Association opposed these protections for women and threatened to include votes on the measures in future ratings. So when it arrived in the upper chamber, Senate leaders opposed it too. After months of negotiations failed, Senate Republicans ultimately blocked the House bill.

The real disgrace is that Sen. Ernst introduced her own version of the Violence Against Women Act, one that lets domestic abusers keep their guns.

This statement from Giffords Managing Director Robin Lloyd sums it up well:

“The United States Senate is allegedly the world’s greatest deliberative body. Yet after the House passed a bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act months ago, the Republican majority remained silent. Instead of putting the safety of women first and having an open debate, Senator Ernst and her Republican allies quietly put politics and the NRA wish list ahead of public safety.”

In the meantime, women continue to be threatened and harmed by armed abusers. It’s unbelievable and unacceptable that we’re in this place today. American women and families need courageous leadership on this issue, and we need it now.

Protect women, or protect guns

While Senators take NRA money and do nothing, a woman is fatally shot in America by an intimate partner every 14 hours. The Violence Against Women Act has been held hostage for over a year—to this day, critical resources for victims of domestic violence are painfully absent.

Before the House vote last April, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members to support the bill:

Speaker Pelosi’s words ring just as true one year later, this time directed at members of the US Senate. We can take action to save women’s lives—or we can continue to give domestic abusers and stalkers unlimited access to guns. Senate leaders need to decide who they want to protect: our families or the gun lobby. Voters are watching.