Blumenthal Introduces Two Bicameral Bills to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors from Gun Violence

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led the introduction of two bills designed to protect domestic violence survivors from gun violence. The Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act and the Domestic Violence Gun Homicide Prevention Act are narrowly crafted measures that will, respectively, close loopholes that allow domestic abusers to legally obtain weapons, and incentivize states to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim, and adding the threat or use of firearms heightens the risk of fatality for a victim. According to a report published by the CDC in July 2017, more than 55% of female homicide victims were killed in connection to violence committed by intimate partners. More than half of all homicides of women involved firearms.

“The link between domestic violence and guns is well-documented, and deadly. Lori Jackson’s tragic death is one of thousands that occur each year following domestic disputes,” said Blumenthal. “The narrowly-crafted legislation I introduced in Lori’s name would close the loophole that allows domestic abusers under temporary restraining orders to legally obtain weapons. Together with the Domestic Violence Gun Homicide Prevention Act – which would strengthen protections for domestic violence survivors – we can act decisively to prevent gun deaths at the hands of domestic abusers. Continued congressional complicity in this matter is unacceptable.”

The Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act would close dangerous loopholes in federal law, thereby protecting millions of women and men nationwide. Current federal law protects domestic violence survivors from gun violence by preventing their abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm – but only once the court has issued a permanent restraining order. This leaves survivors unprotected exactly when they are in the most danger: when a domestic abuser first learns his or her victim has left and only a temporary restraining order is in place. Further, the current definition of ‘intimate partner’ used to prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing or possessing a firearm includes spouses, former spouses, people with a child in common, and cohabitants. However, there are many survivors of dating violence who were never married, do not live with their abuser, and have no children.

This bill would restrict those under temporary restraining order from purchasing or possessing a firearm, and would extend protections to domestic violence survivors who have been abused by their dating partners. The bill is named in memory of Lori Jackson, an Oxford, Connecticut mother of two who was tragically shot and killed by her estranged husband, who had legally obtained a handgun under a temporary restraining order. U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are cosponsoring the bill in the Senate. A companion measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Jim Himes (D-CT).

“The threat of domestic and intimate-partner violence constantly looms over our country,” said Himes. “As situations spiral downward and the cycle of violence repeats, victims are at much greater risk if their abuser has access to a firearm. Dangerous encounters can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.  If we can take real steps to keep firearms out of the hands of abusive individuals, mark my words, there is no doubt we will be saving lives and preventing children from growing up without parents.”

The Domestic Violence Gun Homicide Prevention Act will incentivize states to continue to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and abuse who are at risk of gun violence. The act authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to make grants to states under the existing Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Grants) mechanism. States may use funds they are awarded to assist law enforcement agencies or courts that seek to keep firearms out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from having them, or, in adjudicating or responding to domestic violence situations, to remove guns from situations in which there is probable cause to believe they will be used for domestic violence, harassment, or threats. U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are cosponsoring the bill in the Senate. A companion measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI).

“When a victim makes the courageous decision to leave an abusive situation, her life is at the greatest risk. If she is Black, her risk is even higher,” said Moore. “At this critical juncture, the safety of the victim all too often depends on state enforcement authorities that lack the resources needed to swiftly disarm abusers. This bill, the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Act, would reverse this alarming reality by incentivizing the implementation of stricter state-level firearm enforcement protections, giving law enforcement and judicial authorities the tools they need to save the lives of survivors and their families.”

The bills are supported by a number of advocacy and support groups, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and Jewish Women International.

Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said, "While federal law protects some victims and survivors of intimate partner violence from abusers with firearms, 'some' is insufficient; the law needs to protect all victims and survivors.  We know that about half of all intimate partner homicides are committed by dating partners, and women are at greatest risk of homicide when they take action to leave their abusers such as obtaining ex parte protective orders.  Common sense dictates that these victims should receive the same protections as other victims and survivors of intimate partner violence and that judges and law enforcement have the tools they need to enforce existing law and keep their communities safe."

“Every day in the United States victims of domestic violence are killed or severely injured because abusers have access to firearms,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of National Network to End Domestic Violence. “Congress has already made it clear that abusers should not be allowed to have guns, but loopholes give them legal access. We applaud Senator Blumenthal for taking a stand to protect victims by closing these dangerous loopholes, and giving states additional resources to remove firearms from abusers.”

“In our 2014 survey on firearms and domestic violence, 67 percent of participants shared that they believed their abusive partner was capable of killing them, and 22 percent said their abusive partner had threatened to use a gun,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “We can’t allow perpetrators of domestic violence to have access to firearms, and the Domestic Violence Gun Homicide Prevention Act will go a long way in closing blatant gaps in existing laws that put victims of domestic violence and dating abuse at serious risk.”

Jewish Women International CEO Lori Weinstein said, “No domestic abuser should have access to a gun. I commend Senator Blumenthal's tireless efforts to ensure the safety of women and children from gun violence and fully support the introduction of these two pieces of legislation that will protect women from gun violence in domestic violence situations. On behalf of JWI and our members across the country, I call on Congress to pass these bills immediately. The lives of countless women and children are threatened every day. The stakes could not be higher.”