By Mike Lillis - 03/19/13 12:20 PM EDT
A House Democrat is pushing to expand a weapons ban for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Rep. Lois Capps contends the current prohibition – which can apply to spouses and cohabitants subject to restraining orders, but not to dating partners – is insufficient. The California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would extend the gun ban to cases when the victim and abuser were romantically linked but never married, lived together or had children.
“Our current legal system makes an arbitrary distinction between protections for dating partners and protections for spouses and ex-spouses, creating a loophole in our gun laws and increasing danger for domestic violence victims and survivors," Capps said this week in a statement. "An abusive ex-boyfriend with a gun is no less lethal than an abusive ex-husband with a gun."
Capps's proposal would also empower judges to apply a temporary gun ban when issuing emergency restraining orders – a significant step beyond current law, which allows such a prohibition only after the accused has been offered a court hearing and a full protective order has been passed down. Although a few states grant judges that power surrounding temporary orders, most do not, leaving a patchwork of statutes that critics say have led to murders of women at the hands of violent abusers who were known to have guns but allowed to keep them.
Critics of the Capps's proposal argue that it would steal the Second Amendment rights of the accused before they're given a chance to offer a defense. Supporters counter that women are most at risk immediately after leaving a violent partner, and their safety concerns should trump the gun rights of their alleged abusers.
The bill arrives amid a fierce debate over how – or whether – Congress should change federal law to address gun violence in the wake of December's shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., where a lone gunman killed 28 people, including his mother and 20 young children in an elementary school.
Although gun control has been a third rail on Capitol Hill for many years, the nature of the tragedy – and its timing, post-election – lit a fire beneath President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are calling for tougher weapons laws.
The bills are expected to come before the full Senate next month, and House Republican leaders have vowed to take a look at whatever the upper chamber can pass.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he'll allow amendments to the bills on the floor, but it's unclear if any Senate Democrats are eyeing efforts to disarm alleged domestic abusers subject to restraining orders, or if those measures would have a chance of passing in the face of entrenched opposition from the National Rifle Association and its allies on Capitol Hill.
Capps and other advocates for victims of domestic violence say a failure to address the issue would be a mistake, and they come armed with statistics. Almost half of all women killed each year die at the hands of intimate partners, current or former, they note, and more than half of those cases involve firearms.
Additionally, women threatened by their partners with guns or other weapons end up dead 20 times more frequently than other female victims of domestic abuse, said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She's endorsing the Capps bill.
"Law enforcement must be armed with sensible gun legislation in order to keep as many guns out of dangerous hands as possible," Smith said in a statement. "No more senseless violent gun tragedies. One is too many."