The Violence Against Women Act Is Up for Reauthorization. Why Some Republicans Are Against It

April 3, 2019, 4:26 PM UTC

There is one casualty of the 35-day long government shutdown that you may not know about: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The 1994 law, which seeks to help victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, lapsed in early February when it was not included in the spending bill. In March, Reps. Karen Bass, a Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, co-sponsored a reauthorization of the bill that included significant expansions.

The measure would, among other provisions, aim to curtail the purchase and possession of firearms by those deemed to be a threat by the court and increase protections for gender and sexual minorities. The bill was approved along party lines in the House Judiciary Committee in March. The House approved the bill 263-158 on Thursday—but there are significant factions that don’t want to see the bill pass.

Just 33 Republicans joined Democrats in approving the bill, as others had already expressed their inability to support the bill due to several of the provisions included. But there’s one provision in particular that’s proving to be a sticking point for Republicans, and the powerful NRA lobby: the one that prevents those convicted of abusing, assaulting, or stalking another from buying or owning firearms. The NRA says VAWA is nothing more than a disguised attempt by Democrats to ban firearms ownership.

Under the current law, only those convicted of domestic abuse who are or were married to, lived with, or have a child with the victim can have their guns taken from them. The proposed provision would expand this to include stalkers, current or former boyfriends, and dating partners.

In the U.S., as many as 52 women a month are shot to death by an intimate partner, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. About 76% of intimate partner murder victims had also been stalked by their partner and 67% had been physically abused, the National Center for Victims of Crime found.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports that abused women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser owns a firearm, and domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to end in death than assaults with other weapons or physical harm. At the same time, in those states where firearms are confiscated from abusers, intimate partner homicides have dropped by 7%.

But the NRA has come out against the provision, saying that VAWA has never contained any firearm provisions until now and that it should have been reauthorized last year in the lame duck session. The NRA announced that it will track and publicize how members of the House vote on the bill—which could help some Republicans justify their opposition, but could also put more moderate Republicans in the precarious situation of balancing NRA approval with protecting their female constituents.

“The NRA opposes domestic violence and all violent crime, and spends millions of dollars teaching countless Americans how not to be a victim and how to safely use firearms for self-defense. The gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are intentionally politicizing the Violence Against Women Act as a smokescreen to push their gun control agenda. It’s appalling that the gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are trivializing the serious issue of domestic violence,” NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker tells Fortune.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican, has taken matters into her own hands, and introduced her own legislation last week. The bill includes a clean reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which other members of her party may be more inclined to support.

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