Today, President Joe Biden signed a funding bill into law that included a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Richard Durbin (R-IL), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). In a major win for gun safety, it includes a provision that requires the federal government to notify relevant state, local or tribal law enforcement when a convicted domestic abuser lies on a background check in an attempt to illegally buy a gun – known as NICS Denial Notification. Everytown for Gun Safety,Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action have championed NICS Denial Notification for years, which would give law enforcement the opportunity to intervene before an abuser or any other prohibited purchaser can illegally obtain a firearm or do further harm.
The inclusion of this important gun safety provision in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is a major victory, but NICS Denials Notification is not the only tool law enforcement needs to keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation that would have closed the “dating partner loophole.” The dating partner loophole allows certain abusive dating partners to purchase and possess guns even if they have been convicted of abuse or are under a restraining order for abusing a dating partner. Everytown, Moms Demand Action, and Students Demand Action now call on President Biden to enforce VAWA to its fullest extent – and that means covering abusive dating partners.
“President Biden signing this bipartisan reauthorization of VAWA into law is an incredibly important and much needed step that will help save lives and protect women and children from abusers,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “By including NICS Denial Notification, which will crack down on convicted domestic abusers who lie on background checks in an attempt to illegally buy guns, this legislation makes important progress in our fight for common sense gun safety laws. Now we must finish the job and address the deadly dating partner loophole, which the President can do with another stroke of the pen.”
“The inclusion of NICS Denial Notifications in the VAWA reauthorization means that federal authorities will finally be required to let local law enforcement know when a domestic abuser or other convicted criminal tries to illegally buy a gun, which is a huge red flag for future gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “But now the Biden Administration needs to take the next step and close the deadly loophole that allows convicted domestic abusers who are not legally married to their victims to skirt the law and buy guns.”
The Violence Against Women Act, originally passed on a bipartisan basis in the 1990s and authored by then-Senator Biden, provides critical resources supporting comprehensive, cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Congress last reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.
Domestic abusers far too frequently attempt to illegally purchase firearms: from November 1998 through February 2022, NICS reported it denied 178,000 gun sales to domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanor crimes and more than 72,000 sales to abusers subject to a domestic violence restraining order. These denial alerts to the relevant state, local and tribal law enforcement will allow them to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation and save lives.
Weak gun laws are a key risk factor that contributes to the deadly violence women face in America. Recently released CDC data show that intimate partner gun violence kills an average of 70 women each month. Beyond murders, nearly one million women are living with the scars and trauma of being shot or shot at by an intimate partner. Under current federal law, people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence are only prohibited from possessing guns if they were married to, lived with, or share a child in common with their victim – but today women in America are just as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses. President Biden could enforce the law in alignment with VAWA’s original intent and clarify that dating partners “similarly situated to a spouse” who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic abuse are prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns.
Intimate partner violence and gun violence in the U.S. are inextricably linked, impacting millions of women, families, and communities across the country –– which is why addressing the dating partner loophole would be a landmark step towards saving women’s lives in America. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. More information on the link between guns and domestic violence is available here and resources for survivors of domestic abuse can be found here.