If you’re convicted of stalking, you shouldn’t own a gun.
Many Republicans disagree and complain that this provision in the Violence Against Women Act shatters Americans' Second Amendment rights. It doesn’t.
The bill, passed in the Democrat-controlled House on Thursday, is not perfect. When it comes to gun control, though, the Violence Against Women Act is not only constitutional but essential for victims of domestic abuse.
Since former President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has aimed at protecting victims of domestic crimes. Congress must renew the bill every few years, and each update tweaks its content.
The latest iteration, its fourth renewal, would close the “boyfriend loophole.” Anyone convicted of abusing, assaulting, or stalking someone they’ve dated, and anyone under a restraining order would not be allowed to purchase or own a firearm.
Of course, the National Rifle Association isn’t happy. Because stalking is a misdemeanor, a low-level crime, the NRA argues that the ban would go too far. But anyone who’s worked with domestic violence victims will tell you that intimate-partner violence against women begins with obsession and only gets worse later, especially if the victim tries to escape.
Stalking can quickly turn deadly if intention meets opportunity. According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 7 women has been stalked by an intimate partner in a way that made her fearful, sometimes for her life.
I used to volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, and I’ve seen what a delicate situation intimate-partner violence puts women in. Once someone has latched onto a victim, as a stalker or an overzealous boyfriend, there’s no way to make him stop. Restraining orders, I was told by a police officer, aren’t really helpful.
Restraining orders or orders of protection can limit opportunities for abuse by specifying how close a person came come to the victim's home or workplace, barring them from texting or calling a victim, or restricting contact in other ways. Before a violation occurs, though, the rules are just a piece of paper. But they could help if they could keep someone from purchasing firearms.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., is a domestic abuse survivor who argued that her ex-husband should have had his gun rights taken away, but he also should have had the right to due process even after she’d taken out an order of protection against him. If a court has already agreed to take out an order of protection, however, the accused may have had the opportunity to speak up.
Procedures vary depending on the court, but getting an order of protection typically involves filing a petition and showing up to a hearing that the abuser can attend. If a judge gives an order of protection with no advance notice to the accused, then he may still be able to own a gun under federal law. And if the order is lifted, the person against whom it was served can still buy a gun.
The Second Amendment protects the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns. But there is no reason someone whom a court has already ruled as a danger to an innocent victim should keep a firearm.
At the point of stalking or provoking a restraining order, enough damage has been done already. During a domestic violence situation, a readily available gun increases the risk of homicide by 500%. The Violence Against Women Act simply aims to protect victims before it’s too late.