Center for American Progress

Release: Congress Must Act to Prevent Domestic Abusers and Stalkers from Accessing Guns
Press Release

Release: Congress Must Act to Prevent Domestic Abusers and Stalkers from Accessing Guns

Read the report.

Washington D.C. – Today, as Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) introduces new legislation to protect the victims of stalking from gun violence, the Center for American Progress released a new report detailing how loopholes in current gun laws leave untold numbers of women vulnerable to gun violence committed by men who have harassed, stalked, threatened, and terrorized them often for years. The report examines four specific gaps in current law and cites case examples of how each gap enabled domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain the guns they used to murder women.

“Domestic abusers and stalkers should not have guns. It’s as simple as that,” said Winnie Stachelberg, coauthor of the report and Executive Vice President at the Center for American Progress. “The legislation introduced today by Rep. Hahn is an important first step to close loopholes in the law that allow too many dangerous abusers to easily obtain guns. Congress should act swiftly to ensure that victims of stalking and domestic violence and not further abused.”

One group of people who are at a heightened risk of gun attacks are women who are targets of domestic violence and stalking. Intimate-partner violence is a pernicious crime that affects millions of women across the country. Women are more than three-and-a-half times as likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men. In fact, in 2005 40 percent of female homicide victims nationwide were killed by a current or former intimate partner, and guns were used in more than half of those murders. Having a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide of an intimate partner by eight times compared to households without guns. This risk of homicide increases by 20 times compared to households without guns when there is a history of domestic violence in the family.

Congress has previously recognized the unique dangers posed by domestic abusers with guns. In the mid-1990s it enacted legislation to ban domestic-violence misdemeanants and individuals subject to some domestic-violence restraining orders from buying or possessing guns. But current laws do not go far enough to protect women from the dangers presented by batters and stalkers with guns. Federal law that is currently designed to protect women from gun violence suffers from four key weaknesses:

  • Background checks are not required on all gun sales, so domestic abusers prohibited from gun ownership can easily circumvent the gun-ownership ban by buying a gun from a private seller.
  • The federal limits on domestic abusers are too narrow because they omit abusers in dating relationships and abusers subject to some emergency restraining orders. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) recently introduced legislation to address this loophole.
  • There is no federal ban on gun ownership for stalkers convicted of misdemeanor crimes and those who are subject to restraining orders. The legislation introduced today by Rep. Hahn (D-CA) would address this loophole. Sen. Amy Klobachur (D-MN) has put forward a similar proposal as an amendment in the senate.
  • Federal, state, and local authorities do not adequately enforce the laws already in place because they fail to disarm and prosecute domestic abusers who violate the current law and maintain possession of firearms.

The report entitled “Preventing Domestic Abusers and Stalkers from Accessing Guns” puts forth four concrete steps Congress should take to strengthen the laws regarding firearm possession by domestic abusers and stalkers:

  • Require background checks for all gun sales.
  • Include dating relationships and temporary restraining orders in the ban on gun ownership.
  • Prohibit convicted misdemeanant stalkers from gun ownership.
  • Better enforce the current laws by disarming prohibited domestic abusers.

“Victims of stalking deserve peace of mind whether or not they ever had a relationship with their stalker,” said Congresswoman Hahn. “Allowing a stalker to own or purchase guns costs lives. My legislation will close a dangerous loophole and give law enforcement the tools they need to keep victims of stalking safe.”

Read the report: Preventing Domestic Abusers and Stalkers from Accessing Guns, by Winnie Stachelberg, Arkadi Gerney, Chelsea Parsons, and Megan Knauss

To speak with an expert on this topic, contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or 202.741.6285.