Capps Introduces Legislation to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence and Stalking From Gun Violence

Jun 19, 2014

Washington – Today, Rep. Lois Capps (CA-24) introduced new, updated domestic violence legislation aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence.

The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (H.R. 4906) would close several loopholes that currently exist in current federal protections against gun violence for those experiencing domestic violence and stalking. The bill is similar to two bills introduced in the Senate by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Capps’ bill is supported by: National Network to End Domestic Violence, Futures without Violence, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and its network of Brady and Million Mom March Chapters, the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, YWCA USA, and the National Center for Victims of Crime. 

Existing federal laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence are important, but gaps remain,” Capps said. “The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would close these loopholes to better protect victims and survivors of domestic violence.”

The bill would close loopholes in three separate areas.

1. Dating Partner Loophole – The current definition of ‘intimate partner,’ which is used to prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm includes spouses, former spouses, parents, those who share a child, and cohabitants. Thus many victims in a dating relationship with an abuser are not protected. The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would expand the definition of ‘intimate partner’ to include current and former dating partners, ending this arbitrary disparity.

2. Temporary Restraining Order Loophole – When a domestic violence victim asks a court for protection against an abuser, the first step is commonly known as a temporary restraining order. These are granted when the court determines that the victim is in danger and that waiting to schedule a full hearing to provide a permanent restraining order would be detrimental to the victim’s safety. Current federal law protects domestic violence victims by preventing their abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm—but only once the court has issued a permanent restraining order. This delay in protection leaves victims unguarded at exactly when they are in the most danger—in the hours and days after a domestic abuser first learns that their partner is separating from them. Crucially, it is often these temporary restraining orders that serve as the first notification to an abuser that their partner is ending their relationship, often leading to additional violence.

The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would put temporary restraining orders on par with permanent restraining orders, by temporarily preventing an individual subject to it from purchasing or possessing a firearm for the duration of the temporary restraining order. The bill would also ensure due process for the abuser, ensuring that this action could only be taken if they are given notice and an opportunity to be heard in court within a reasonable time period. The court must also find that they represent a threat to another person’s physical safety. These protections would balance the safety of the victim during the times when they are most at risk and the due process rights of the abuser.

3. Stalking Loophole – Currently, federal law fails to protect victims of stalking from future gun violence. Stalking involves a course of harassing conduct against a person that is designed to put them in fear for their personal safety. Stalking is a serious criminal matter because it is often the first step in an escalating pattern of criminal behavior that culminates in physical violence. Individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors are already prohibited from gun ownership under federal law. The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act would bring stalking in line with other domestic violence crimes in this manner.

"I applaud Representative Capps for introducing this evidence-based policy that will protect the victims of domestic violence,” said Joshua Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “It's unacceptable that 55% of women murdered by their intimate partners are killed with a firearm. This legislation guarantees legal protections for victims when they are most at risk, by ensuring that their abusers cannot purchase or possess firearms.”

"An abuser with a firearm is five times more likely to murder his current or former intimate partner than an unarmed abuser,” Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “Victims are at greatest risk around when they first go to courts seeking a restraining order. Studies indicate that laws prohibiting persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms reduce homicides involving intimate partners by up to 19%. Many more lives could be saved by the expanded protections offered in Representative Capp’s bill.”

More than three times as many women are murdered by guns used by their intimate partners than are murdered by strangers using a gun, knife, or any other weapon, and one in four women are a victim of domestic violence. The 17 states that passed laws prohibiting individuals subject to all restraining orders from possessing a gun saw a 19 percent drop in overall intimate partner homicides.

Dating partners were responsible for 35 percent of intimate partner homicides committed between 1976 and 2005, and the share of intimate partner homicide committed annually by current dating partners has been on the rise.

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