The NRA’s vigorous opposition to a domestic violence bill awaiting the governor’s signature in Delaware sheds new light on the gun-rights group’s legislative strategy when confronted with that highly sensitive issue. As the Trace reported last month, state lawmakers have been able to get the powerful lobby to play ball — up to a point. The fight in Delaware shows where that tacit cooperation ends.
SB 83, which passed both chambers of the Democratic-controlled legislature in June, would expand the definition of intimate partner to include persons who are in “substantive dating relationships” but do not live together. The NRA attacked the bill, which also mandates the removal of firearms and ammunition from those served with an order of protection, saying it was “designed to bypass due process to deprive gun owners of their rights in domestic abuse proceedings.”
That extension of protections to dating partners appears to be the line the NRA won’t cross. In some states, lawmakers have handed over domestic violence bills featuring gun prohibitions to NRA state representatives very early in the process and found common ground. But when bills have looked to change the definition of relationships that can be considered “domestic,” the NRA has balked.
In Louisiana, for example, someone who abuses a romantic partner they do not live with is still allowed to carry a gun. Rep. Helena Moreno, a Democrat, hoped to change that this year with a bill that expanded the state’s criteria for domestic abuse to include violence at the hands of a “household member, family member, or dating partner.” Though Moreno and her fellow lawmakers had worked with gun-rights groups to pass domestic violence legislation the year before, this year, NRA resistance proved too difficult to surmount.
Democratic Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit anyone subject to a restraining order or convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing a gun. It would also have expanded the definition of “domestic” to include dating partners. She brought it to her state’s NRA lobbyists as a measure of good faith.
She tells The Trace that two of her colleagues warned her, “‘You’re not going to get anywhere, and they’re not going to respond.’ But you know, it happened. They came into my office. I said, ‘I want a bill that passes. Analyze my bill and tell me what’s good and what isn’t.’” The NRA representatives took issue with Oregon’s definition of domestic partner, saying it couldn’t be more expansive than federal law. Anderson acquiesced, and the Republican caucus worked with the NRA to hammer out the language.
There is no universal definition for a domestic violence victim. The Centers for Disease Control sets the parameters to include spouses, dating partners, or ongoing sexual partners, as does the Department of Justice. But the Lautenberg Amendment, which bans access to firearms for misdemeanor domestic violence offenders, restricts the definition of victims to those who live with their abusers or have children with them. The amendment can also only be enforced by federal agents — of which there are few, compared to state law enforcement officials — leading states to enact their own mechanisms to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
One gun violence–prevention advocate, who asked not to be named, tells The Trace that this lag between cultural norms and legislation is like the Internet loophole through which firearms can be privately bought and sold without a background check.
“Those laws haven’t caught up with technology. Domestic violence laws haven’t caught up with cultural change,” the source said.
[Photo: Flickr user Zorah Olivia]