Dingell: No One ‘Should Have to Experience the Trauma my Family Did’

US Rep. Debbie Dingell at at Teamsters 337 rally on March 20, 2021. (Ken Coleman/Michigan Advance)

By Michigan Advance

February 17, 2023

BY ANNA GUSTAFSON, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—US Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) knows what it is to live in fear.

“Growing up, I lived in a house with a man – my father – who should not have had access to a gun,” Dingell said in a press release. “I remember the terror my siblings and I felt as we hid from him in the closet and in fear of him using it to hurt my mother. No child, spouse, or partner should have to experience the trauma my family did.” 

That, Dingell said, is why she introduced the “Strengthening Protections for Domestic Violence and Stalking Survivors Act of 2023” alongside Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Feb. 6. H.R. 905 and S. 321 would close loopholes in current federal law that allow abusers and stalkers to access guns, the lawmakers said.

The legislation would update federal law to ban people who have abused dating partners and are under domestic violence protection orders from buying or owning firearms. Current federal law prohibits an individual with a domestic violence protection order from possessing a gun if they abused a spouse, someone they live with or someone they have a child with. It does not, however, include people who have abused a current or former dating partner. 

The bills would also specify that people convicted of misdemeanor stalking cannot legally possess a firearm. In the statement announcing the legislation, the lawmakers pointed out that stalking is often a predictor of future violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 76% of women murdered by a current or former intimate partner experienced stalking in the year preceding the murder.

Dingell noted that the legislation was introduced a week after the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court struck down the decades-old federal law that banned people who have domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. That court’s decision applies in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Growing up, I lived in a house with a man–my father–who should not have had access to a gun. I remember the terror my siblings and I felt as we hid from him in the closet and in fear of him using it to hurt my mother. No child, spouse, or partner should have to experience the trauma my family did.

– U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor)

“We must be clear: this extreme decision puts lives in danger,” Dingell said of the decision by a panel of three judges who were all nominated by Republican presidents. “Equally disturbing, federal law still includes a ‘boyfriend loophole’ that allows abusive dating partners subject to protection orders and convicted stalkers to access firearms.”

The proposed legislation would, Dingell said, “close this loophole once and for all.

“The legislation will ensure abusive dating partners subject to protection orders and convicted stalkers cannot get their hands on a firearm,” Dingell continued. “Perpetrators of violence—including dating partners—should not be able to access a firearm, and I will not stop fighting until we can deliver on this promise.”

Jackson Lee also issued vehement criticism of the 5th Circuit Court’s decision, which critics nationwide have said sends a chilling message that abusers’ access to guns is more important in the eyes of the law than the lives of those who have experienced domestic violence.

The decision by the court said current federal law barring people with domestic violence protection orders from possessing firearms contradicts the country’s “historical tradition” of access to guns and is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s landmark expansion of Second Amendment rights in June. That, Jackson Lee said, is an “affront to domestic violence survivors.

“Striking down laws that keep guns out of the hands of abusive partners puts those trapped in abusive relationships, all those around them, at serious risk of harm,” Jackson Lee continued. “That is why we must fully close the ‘boyfriend loophole’ that allows abusive dating partners access to guns, often with deadly results.”

Nearly two-thirds of intimate partner homicides in the US are committed with a gun—and 80 percent of those victims are women, according to an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of National Violent Death Reporting System data. Everytown is a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates for gun reform across the country.

Every month, an average of 70 women in the US are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and nearly one million women who are alive today have reported being shot or shot at by an intimate partner, according to Everytown. More than 4.5 million women alive in the US have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.

Dingell’s proposed legislation has been endorsed by numerous groups working to curtail gun violence and advocating for the rights of domestic violence survivors, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, YWCA USA, and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, among others.

“Domestic violence and access to guns is a deadly combination for women and families,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a prepared statement. “While the 5th Circuit is eroding protections for those with domestic violence restraining orders, we must redouble our efforts to save lives from senseless and preventable violence. We’re proud to stand in strong support of Rep. Dingell’s efforts and are grateful for her unwavering commitment to this issue.”

Representatives from the National Domestic Violence Hotline noted that they have seen an increase in the number of people reporting that firearms were a part of their experience with abuse in 2022—21,225 people said so in 2022, a 22.2% increase over 2021.

“Everyday, survivors call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and share ways that firearms are used by abusive partners to threaten, coerce, and control,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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