About : Rochelle Kaplan

About : Rochelle Kaplan

As a Salt Lake Tribune editorial recently pointed out (linked here), domestic violence related deaths account for 44% of of murders in Utah, significantly higher than the national percentage. Women are the usual victims. When a woman’s intimate partner (even a former partner) has a gun, the homicide risk from domestic violence increases 5 fold. But our narrow laws make the situation worse than it has to be.

Police can respond aggressively only when a woman has been married to or living with the man threatening her. But Republican Sen. Todd Weiler and Democratic Sen. Angela Romero have introduced a bill to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include partners who had a sexual relationship together. This bill, if passed, will help.

So would funded awareness training. The Sandy police department, in light of a recent horrific killing of three, broadened its definition. But this needs to be done statewide, especially in light of the lax gun laws here.

Please contact Senators Weiler and Romero to offer your support for this legislation and ask them how you can help get the bill out of committee and then passed by the state legislature. And also contact your own state Senator to urge him/her to support this critical bill.

Contact info: tweiler@le.utah.gov Tel: 801-599-9823
angelaromero@le.utah.gov Tel: 801-722-4972

The New York Times in December published a riveting nine-part editorial on domestic violence, linked here. I encourage you to read it and watch it (2 are videos or graphic representations). Even gun rights advocates support laws to stop access to guns by domestic abusers. One in three women and one in four men will be physically abused in their lifetimes, and 20% of children will be exposed to family violence. The Lautenberg Amendment from 1996 has been effective in stopping nearly 200,000 people from buying weapons; it prohibited those convicted of assault against a spouse or child or under a permanent protective order from buying or owning firearms. But the amendment has the same problem as current Utah law. Only spouses or those cohabiting as spouses are affected – not intimate/dating partners who are unmarried, or other family members who aren’t spouses or children. A majority of mass murders and 1/4 of killings of policemen in the line of duty are related to domestic violence. Also, the Justice Dept. has no mechanism to alert law enforcement agencies when convicted abusers try to purchase a gun and no way to alert potential victims of the abusers. Nearly half the murders of 10,000 women from 2003-20014 were committed by current or former romantic partners. Democrats Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Debbie Dingell have introduced legislation the past two years to address the Lautenberg Amendment “boyfriend loophole” but Republicans have offered scant support. The Klobuchar/Dingell bill would also stop convicted stalkers from buying or owning guns; 3/4 of those killed were previously stalked.

Another sensible approach would be to extend to temporary restraining orders the federal prohibitions on having or buying firearms that already apply to people under permanent restraining orders. That’s because so few permanent restraining orders are issued and because violence often occurs soon after the issuing of such orders. Another suggestion has already been enacted in rural, conservative states like ND and TN and by gun-rights advocates like Gov. Scott Walker in WI. That is to order quick relinquishment of guns from people under restraining orders. States that collect guns from people under restraining orders have a 22 percent lower rate of intimate-partner homicide by gun than those that don’t.

Enforcement is also key. Judges have wide discretion over who should turn in guns, and judges often lack pertinent information from case managers, police or prosecutors. Passing a law is insufficient, as Seattle found out. With enforcement and shared information, the city was much more effective at collecting guns – preventing murders due to domestic violence.

The bipartisan FIX NICS Act, should it pass, and it should, would improve the reporting of domestic violence convictions. That too would help.

The Times series faults the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for not prosecuting those who lie about whether they are on a prohibited list to buy guns and who then try to buy firearms. But the Times also blames Congress for inadequately funding the ATF. And it faults the Justice Dept. for not having guidelines on prosecuting the liars. Some states have enacted “lie and try” legislation. Utah is one of 10 states that require state and local enforcement agencies to be notified of failed background checks. But of those ten, none offer alerts to potential victims if their abusers try to to arm themselves. Why can’t Utah add on this critical piece?

Two members of the federal House of Representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, introduced legislation in late November that would require the A.T.F. to notify local authorities when a gun purchase is denied. There is no good reason why this sensible bill should not pass.

Another sensible move would be to pass extreme-risk laws so that those at risk of domestic violence have the risk lessened. Currently, twenty states are considering this, with the support of law enforcement groups. These laws affect those who could pass background checks, own guns, but are experiencing extreme situations (loss of job, mental illness, suicidal thoughts) that imperil public safety.

Please contact your state representatives and your federal representatives to urge that they act to curb domestic violence by supporting these measures. Contact those already putting forth such legislation and offer your thanks.

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