Domestic Violence and Guns

Over the past several decades, we have made great progress in moving beyond the days when domestic violence was considered a “family matter” and deliberately ignored by police, courts, and communities. But intimate partner abuse remains an epidemic in the United States, and we are now confronting a type of violence that has evaded scrutiny for far too long: the dangerous intersection of guns and domestic violence, and the lack of legal protections for women who are not married to their abusers.

READ: Domestic Violence in Jewish Law

The numbers are startling, and disturbing. American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other developed countries. Guns are the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides, more than all other weapons combined. The presence of a gun in an abusive relationship raises the risk of homicide for a woman by 500 percent.

The relationship between victim and abuser does not change the risk: Nearly half of domestic violence homicides are committed by a current or former dating partner. Yet the law treats these victims differently.

A federal law commonly known as the Lautenberg Amendment prohibits some people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from purchasing or possessing guns – but not all. A small but significant omission in the law’s definition of “intimate partner” created the boyfriend loophole: People who are (or were previously) married or living together, or have a child together, count as intimate partners for the purposes of the prohibition. But dating partners are not included; and despite evidence that these women are at equal risk of lethal violence, the loophole remains in place twenty years after Lautenberg Amendment.

The law also does not include misdemeanor stalking convictions. Stalking is strongly connected to physical violence, co-occurring in 81 percent of abusive relationships, and is a common tactic used by abusers to intimidate and control a victim at the most dangerous time for her – when she leaves the relationship. Stalking is also a strong risk factor for future violence: a study of female homicides in 10 cities found that 76 percent of women killed by an intimate partner were stalked before their deaths.

As demographics shift and young people delay marriage, more and more women are placed in danger. Dating partners now account for 39 percent of all non-fatal violence against women, and 48.6 percent of fatal violence. The boyfriend loophole leaves millions of women at risk of gun violence at the hands of convicted abusers and stalkers, simply based on their relationship status. It’s time for Congress to take action.

Bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate – H.R. 3130, the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, and S.1520, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act – would close the boyfriend loophole and ensure that all victims are afforded the same level of protection.

For over two decades, Jewish Women International (JWI) has worked with the Jewish and interfaith community to end all forms of gender-based violence, including gun violence by abusers. This year, JWI’s Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence united nearly 500 clergy from a range of faith traditions on a letter to Congress in support of this legislation. On May 18, the coalition held a national call-in day for people of all faiths to call upon their federal lawmakers to close this dangerous loophole and keep guns out of the hands of convicted abusers and stalkers. Our work continues – next month, the coalition will bring the letter with hundreds of clergy signatures to congressional offices, and ensure that the voices of our faith communities are heard on Capitol Hill.

We know that when abusers have guns, women die – and the time to act is now. As Jews, we must stand up when we see injustice occurring in our community. As feminists, we must speak out when we see women’s lives being threatened.  And as Americans, we must call upon our lawmakers to enact change that will save lives.

Ask your clergy to join this effort by signing on to our letter to Congress!

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