In August of 2017, Ciera Jackson of St. Louis was granted a restraining order against her abusive ex-boyfriend. Eleven days later she was shot four times through her window. Jackson is not alone in experiencing this type of violence; gun violence by abusive partners is sadly far too pervasive.
Fifty-seven percent of women killed as a result of domestic violence were killed by a gun. Data gathered from an analysis of five cities showed that almost a third of male killers were “known to be a potential threat before the attack”. Here in Connecticut, 478 people were killed by an intimate partner between 2000 and 2018, with firearms being the predominant weapon in these homicides.
These statistics are both alarming and growing, yet there are no federal legal protections to prevent an unmarried partner convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from buying a firearm.
For survivors of domestic and sexual violence, this needed legal protection was proposed as a clause in a larger bill, giving survivors a glimpse of hope. However, due to Republican opposition, this provision was taken out, for fear that it would jeopardize the entire bill. Despite the increasing amount of opposition, Connecticut’s U.S. senators had been working with other Democratic lawmakers to figure out a bipartisan solution to allow the provision to remain in the bill. This bill is known as The Violence Against Women Act.
After a long and tedious journey, The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has finally been reauthorized, as it has long-awaited Senate approval. It’s a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and more. This Act protects victims of domestic violence and gives survivors the protections that they deserve. However, that vital gun safety provision is missing: the boyfriend loophole. As originally proposed in Section. 802 of H.R 1620 the gun safety provision would have prohibited “stalkers and individuals subject to court order from possessing a firearm.” This provision could have saved Ciera Jackson, Desirae Parnell, Minerva Cisneros, and countless more women who were murdered by their abusive partners.
Due to the highly partisan nature of gun policy and the power of the NRA and gun lobby, advocates for VAWA decided it would be best to remove this provision, as there was extreme Republican opposition. One of the biggest advocates for the reauthorization, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois stated, “That provision became controversial, and we had to measure the remainder of the bill against that provision”. While the original VAWA passed the House in 2021, the opposition of 172 Republicans centered around the gun safety provision.
This could be attributed to the financial support Republican members have received from the National Rifle Association. Members of the National Task Force to end domestic and sexual violence (NTF) have spent years on the proposed language of VAWA, and specifically the language of this gun safety provision. Ruth Glenn, president of one of the organizations that was a part of the NTF, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), has expressed her disappointment about the common beliefs of domestic violence and gun safety.
When asked about the opposition to the loophole provision, she described the beliefs that fuel the opposition: “People do not recognize that misdemeanor domestic violence convictions typically stem from felony-level violence. They think a misdemeanor crime is not that serious – they believe that an abuser’s desire to have a firearm is more important than a survivor’s safety.”
To close the boyfriend loophole means preventing domestic and sexual abusers from purchasing a firearm, and possibly killing their partner. VAWA has been reauthorized, and it is here to stay. Although it has given further protections for victims of abuse and victims who are a part of culturally specific communities, the left-out gun safety provision is a major setback in the effort to reduce the domestic violence murder rate. According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, “closing this loophole is truly a matter of life and death.”
Many victims fear that their path of abuse will end with their death. Far too many partners have charges against them or have a restraining order resulting from domestic violence and have still been able to purchase a firearm. Unfortunately, this fear is too often reality, as we see in Ciera Jackson’s case.
Even if victims live in a state like Connecticut that has much stricter gun laws, they must fear an abuser who can cross state lines to obtain a firearm. Until these protections are given the force of federal law, many women continue to live in fear of the ability of an abuser to purchase a firearm. These survivors justly fear that their experience with domestic violence will ultimately end in their murder.
Frankie Silva is a junior at Trinity College, majoring in Public Policy and Law.