Last week, an interfaith coalition spanning 36 faiths came together to deliver one simple, but monumental, message: Women and girls can’t wait for common sense gun control.
The Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at Jewish Women International (JWI)—which spans 36 faiths and encompasses faith leaders from across the country—called, emailed, and even tweeted to U.S. representatives and senators across the country on May 18 and urged them to take action on pending legislation in both chambers of Congress that would strengthen gun safety laws and save women’s lives.
National conversations about gun law reform date back to 1993, when the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act—which mandated federal background checks for all firearm purchases—was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton. Three years later, in 1996, Sen. Frank Lautenberg successfully amended existing federal law to include the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which has since prohibited convicted domestic abusers from possessing firearms.
Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in our peer nations. Two-thirds of intimate partner homicides involve guns. One in three women who are murdered are killed by their partners, and if there’s a gun in an abusive household their risk of dying shoots up 500 percent.
The Brady Bill and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban were pivotal pieces of legislation, and they’ve undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. But remaining loopholes prevent those laws from being applied to their full potential. That’s where JWI—and two key pieces of legislation—come in.
The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2015 (S. 1520) and the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abuse Act (H.R. 3130) would prevent abusers from obtaining firearms through private sellers, many of whom don’t conduct proper background checks, and expand the scope of what qualifies as “domestic abuse” in existing laws in order to ensure that records of abuse by dating partners and stalking disqualify individuals from being able to purchase a gun. Both bills were introduced in the House and Senate last summer, but have yet to come to a vote.
These changes may seem small, but the problem they’re addressing is huge. 76 percent of women murdered by partners or former partners were stalked prior to their deaths, and almost half of the women who die in intimate partner homicides were killed by dating partners. These women, however, aren’t explicitly protected by the laws on the books, which only prohibit gun ownership based on spousal abuse and don’t include misdemeanor crimes like stalking in the definition of “domestic abuse.”
“Whether she’s gone on five dates, been married for five years, or had five children with him—a woman is not safe when her abuser has access to guns,” JWI CEO Lori Weinstein said in a statement. “Faith leaders, Republicans, Democrats, and gun owners support this legislation. It’s not controversial; it’s commonsense, and we need it now.”
Carmen Rios is the digital editor at Ms. as well as the community director and feminism editor at Autostraddle, and a contributing writer at Everyday Feminism. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, MEL, Mic, BITCH, and Feministing. She stays very zen in L.A. traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.