Crenshaw-AOC battle puts spotlight on lending guns to a friend

A social media battle between two of the House’s biggest stars is putting a focus on whether it’s OK to loan a gun to a friend. 

Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGeorge Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy The absurdity of President Trump picking the Democratic nominee Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers MORE's (R-Texas) statement about loaning a gun sparked an incredulous response from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders Ocasio-Cortez throws support to Sanders at Queens rally MORE (D-N.Y.), who could hardly believe someone would think of the possibility.

“Why on earth would you do that?” she responded to a tweet from Crenshaw.

Crenshaw was nearly as incredulous at Ocasio-Cortez. He said that only urban elites would not understand why someone might lend a firearm. 

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He also shared a news story about a young woman who used a handgun to defend herself against alleged robbers, saying her situation was a reason he supports the 2nd Amendment.

The idea of loaning guns to people for their own self-defense is nothing new, and federal law does allow legal gun owners to loan or “transfer” their firearms as long as the recipient is not prohibited from possessing one.

Gun owners are blocked from selling or transferring any firearm or ammunition to anyone they know or have reasonable cause to believe has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or is subject to a restraining order for harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child.

There are also laws intended to prevent the transfer of a weapon to someone using drugs, someone committed to a mental institution, and people in the country illegally or people dishonorably discharged from the armed forces.

But gun rights groups say there are a number of good reasons for people to lawfully transfer guns to friends or family members.

Examples include fathers teaching their children proper gun safety procedures or farmers helping one another protect their land from wild animals. A licensed gun owner might want to take a friend to a gun range to teach them how to shoot for the first time.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) argued in a statement to The Hill that universal background checks would criminalize these various forms of normal, human behavior.

"Anti-gun lawmakers frequently reveal how little they understand firearms and firearm culture when they talk about gun control, and this is a good example of that," a spokeswoman for the NRA said. "Our focus should be on preventing and penalizing criminal acts – not criminalizing the normal, socially acceptable behavior of law-abiding Americans."

Groups battling for gun control, however, say there are significant reasons to be wary about loaning guns. 

In fact, they say that a woman at risk of domestic violence could face greater danger with a gun in the home, which is an argument against loaning a gun to a friend for self-protection, the groups state.

"There is no research to support the notion that owning a gun increases safety for women; in fact, studies have shown the contrary," Everytown for Gun Safety states on its website. "Compared to men, women living in households with a firearm are at greater risk of the weapon being used to harm them." 

A California study found that women who owned guns died by firearm homicide at twice the rate of women who did not.

Christian Heyne, vice president of policy for the Brady gun violence prevention advocacy group, said women shouldn’t feel deterred from legally purchasing a gun for their own protection through appropriate channels, he said. 

“But in terms of a quick, impulsive want to borrow a gun from a friend, is that really keeping someone safe?” Heyne asked.

The root of Ocasio-Cortez’s concern appeared to stem from the secrecy surrounding instances of domestic violence. She suggested that someone loaning a gun to a friend might have no clue that their friend is an abuser.

“I’ve had friends come out to me as victims. It’s not obvious. Unsafe relationships are COMMON,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Crenshaw said gun control is what poses a threat to victims of domestic violence.

He said in a statement to The Hill that he should be allowed to lend his handgun to a friend who “was scared her ex-boyfriend was going to try to break into her house."

Universal background checks, Crenshaw argued, would instead make them both felons.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed in the House in February, would prohibit most person-to-person firearm transfers without a background check. The language in the bill is an attempt to close a potential loophole on private sales such as those at gun shows, on the internet or through classified ads.

The legislation does contain reasonable exemptions to allow a person to responsibly loan a gun to family members. It also exempts transfers for hunting, trapping, fishing or target practice. 

The bill also allows exemptions to provide a gun in the moment for self-defense. 

The Republican-controlled Senate has not voted on the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens McConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' MORE (R-Ky.) last week said it wouldn’t move to the floor without the support of President Trump.

At least 20 states have already either wholly or partially closed the background check loophole, according to the Giffords Law Center

To prevent domestic violence, the Brady group argues for exemptions that “flip the script,” Heyne said, such as hypothetically allowing a woman to quickly transfer a weapon to a friend or family member if she feels there is an inherent danger from having a gun at home. 

This would get more guns out of homes, not put them inside them.  

That exemption also includes self-harm and would allow a person contemplating suicide to pass off a handgun.

“That is also an important tool for suicide prevention where we know that decision happens quickly and can be impulsive,” Heyne said.

Crenshaw and Ocasio-Cortez's social media debate underscored their differences on guns but also the different views of people in general on the issue. 

While many people in homes that do not have guns might have been surprised by the very idea of someone loaning a gun to a friend, Crenshaw and the NRA said the practice would not seem odd at all to homes with guns. 

But Heyne argued that Ocasio-Cortez’s “natural reaction” to learning about the practice of lending guns not only reflects how a lot of Americans think but is also a good thing because it highlights the need for tougher laws.

“That shock and awe is healthy,” Heyne said.