The recent mass shootings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and in Rancho Tehama Reserve, California remind us that the most common “kind” of mass shooting is rooted in domestic violence.
- According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 54 percent of mass shootings were related to domestic violence. And these numbers do not include violent episodes in which fewer than 4 persons, other than the shooter, are killed.
- 64 percent of mass shooting victims are women and children even though women are only 15 percent of all shooting victims and children are only 7 percent.
Since we have scientific and irrefutable proof of the link between domestic violence and gun violence, including mass shootings, and the Lautenberg Amendment (federal Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban) bans access to firearms by people convicted of domestic violence or who are under a restraining order for domestic abuse, why do domestic abusers find it so easy to access firearms and other weapons. The simple answer is reality, exceptions and loopholes.
- Domestic violence is one of the most underreported, under-prosecuted, and under-convicted of all crimes. Victims are so terrorized by their abusers that they frequently do not report the violence, do not cooperate with the police and prosecutors, and often refuse to testify against their abusers. Witnesses are also often lacking or unwilling to cooperate.
- Abusers who are convicted often plead to other charges, like simple assault or battery, which Lautenberg does not cover.
- The law only applies to intimate partners. The people involved must be spouses or sexual partners who have cohabitated or have a child together. This is known as the boyfriend and stalker exception.
- The law does not apply to temporary restraining or protection from abuse orders. The time immediately after a PFA is served is often the most dangerous since this is frequently what sets off the violence. And once any restraining order is lifted, the restriction no longer applies. Again frequently a time of high risk for violent pay back.
- This law only applies to gun sales that involve a background check with the NCIC data base. In 32 states there are no background checks required for private, unlicensed gun sales or sales at gun shows.
- Even though the law bars procession of firearms, weapons, and ammunition, it does not specifically require gun surrender or lay out a mandatory timeline or procedure for gun surrender, which is of course illogical and ludicrous. Only 15 states have addressed this loophole.
- Most states, including PA, allow for third-party safekeeping. A defendant is able to transfer their firearms, weapons, and ammunition to a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. rather than relinquish them to law enforcement.
- Domestic violence abusers pose one of the greatest risks to law enforcement, there’s a widespread lack of awareness and understanding of the statute at the local level even among judges, and gun culture throughout much of this country is strong, so compliance with both Lautenberg and surrender laws is spotty at best.
- The restriction does not apply to those who share a residence with the abuser.
- Reporting to the federal data base is lax. Many local authorities and even the military fail to provide the relevant information or do not do so in a timely manner. So abusers are rarely flagged.
As a society, we must feel more responsible to protect women and children from abuse and death. This can happen to any woman, anywhere, at any time. As a mother and stepmother of 4 daughters, it saddened me to have to raise them to understand that the greatest threat to their health and well-being was the boys and men with whom they would come in contact, and even care for, throughout their lives. I pray, I advocate, and I vote to insure my daughters and sons don’t need to raise our granddaughters with that same message. Won’t you join me?
For starters Pennsylvania residents can contact their state Rep and Senator to encourage passage of SB 501, legislation that would remove third-party safekeeping and require that relinquishment occur within 24 hours of conviction. It doesn’t close every loophole, but it’s a start.
Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie is an individual Partner in BCWAC and Co-Chair of the Communications Committee.