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Cruel yet controversial: How the Violence Against Women Act could shield us from guns - if we let it

Written by: Anushka Tadikonda

 

When Elizabeth Mahoney received a call from her eighteen year old daughter, she was startled to hear her crying on the other end. Her daughter started pleading with her to come home after being threatened by Elizabeth’s ex. Of course, Elizabeth immediately called the police and they removed him from her house. She made haste to file a restraining order against him the following day.


On January 13, 2009, however, Elizabeth's life changed dramatically when her ex barged into her house and confronted her daughter. Elizabeth ran into the living room when she heard arguing, and saw her daughter backing away from Elizabeth’s ex who was holding a gun. She didn't have time to react before her ex fired. 3 shots. Metal in. Blood out. Blood gushed from Elizabeth’s face as she struggled to make her way to the phone and dial 911. Her shot up face made it difficult for her to speak; however, the police eventually tracked her down, along with the medical team.


As Amnesty International reported, she heard a policeman remark, “Oh, this is just a domestic violence case.” Elizabeth later stated that “he was just five feet from where I was fighting for my life and where my child lay dead. There was nothing ‘just’ about it.”


Elizabeth’s life was cut apart by the scissors of gun violence. It shredded Elizabeth's life, destroying her face and killing her only daughter.

Elizabeth Mahoney holding a picture of her now deceased daughter. Kathy Shorr / PBS


Her story may seem like an anomaly, like a needle in a haystack; however, this story is more common than people may think. Gun violence plagues women around the world, and this narrative is just one of millions.

The Statistics

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, more than 11,000 women in the United States were killed with a gun between 2015 to 2019. Although the rate of gun violence against men is higher than the rate of violence against women, women are commonly victimized by people they know, and are often targeted simply because of their gender. A monthly average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and an Everytown analysis of mass shootings shows that at least 53 percent of those incidents involve a current or former intimate partner or family member. Everytown explains, “Abusers with firearms are five times more likely to kill their victims, and guns further exacerbate the power and control dynamic used by abusers to inflict emotional abuse and exert coercive control over their victims.”


On March 16, 2021, six women and two men were killed when a gunman opened fire on spas across the metropolitan Atlanta area, deliberately targeting Asian women. In this case, firearms were used as weapons of mass terror, demonstrating a long-standing pattern of gun violence against women, as well as exemplifying an increase in violence against Asian Americans. Thus, this case adds to the tragic statistic that shows 92% of women who die by gunfire in high-income countries are from the United States.

People gather outside Gold Spa in Atlanta to honor those who were killed during the shooting. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters File


Yet, the impact of gun violence against women goes beyond fatal encounters. According to a study from 2016, nearly one million women alive at the time had been shot, not killed, by an intimate partner, and 4.5 million women had been threatened with a firearm. Sadly, with the proliferation of guns, these stories will soon become nothing more than numbers on a page, no longer seen as individual tragedies.


The NRA’s opposition

Every five years, Congress routinely renews the the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law. The legislation provided law enforcement with money to pursue the perpetrators of crimes against women, hardened sentencing guidelines, and established a unit under the Justice Department to combat gender-based crimes.


However, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act was blocked by the lobbying of the National Rifles Assiciation (NRA) during its attempted reauthorization in 2019.


Since 1994, the gun industry has argued that this act contains restrictions that are inconvenient and unclear. Historically, the U.S. government and America’s population as a whole, has elevated and kept white, straight, cis-gendered men in a position of power, so it makes sense that an uproar ensued when this act sought to enhance the protection of women. In recent years, however, the act has gotten the favor and popularity it deserves by the general population, lawmakers, public health officials, and celebrities, yet it stands as another example of how even popular and sensible measures can be derailed and set back by those in power.


Due to the high rates of intimate partner violence, a clause in the law states that convicted domestic abusers could lose their firearms if they have ever been married, lived, or had a child with the victim. However, this clause doesn’t include current or former dating partners. This ambiguity in the act has been long described as the “boyfriend loophole,” one of the main reasons that act was not reauthorized in 2019. Many advocates have lobbied for the expansion of the restrictions, drawing much hatred from second amendment protectors, specifically the NRA.


“[The NRA] opposes the gun control provisions contained in the House-passed bill that exploit the legitimate and serious issue of domestic violence as a smokescreen to ban gun ownership,” NRA spokesperson Amy Hunter informed CNN.

Recent Legislation

There is, however, some hope. The Biden Administration recently passed The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022. Biden promoted the act’s passage, vocalizing how the law “broke the dam of congressional resistance and cultural resistance and it brought this hidden epidemic out of the shadows.”


The law, however, failed to close the “boyfriend loophole.” Biden had pledged to pass the legislation if Congress approved it. But compromises must be made to gain the necessary Republican votes. Senator Dick Durbin explains, “in order to get anywhere near 60 votes, that provision became controversial, and we had to measure the remainder of the bill against that provision. It's a tough choice and we made the choice we thought was right.”


However, the latest passage of The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act still will benefit women across America. By improving legal assistance programs and transitional housing support that can reduce the likelihood of homelessness, the bipartisan legislation aims to expand economic support and housing stability for survivors. Among other things, it expands special criminal jurisdiction to tribal groups, enhances services and support for marginalized communities, strengthens law enforcement's application of evidence-based practices when handling gender-based violence, and improves the healthcare system's response to domestic violence and sexual assault.

Biden embraces Kathy Sherlock, the mother of Kayden Mancuso, a 7-year-old girl who was killed by her father, after the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Patrick Semansky / AP Photo


Looking Ahead

It is most common for women to experience mistreatment from their partners and strangers in the forms of verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. However, when their loved ones or strangers bring guns into the situation to exert power and control over the other partner, the situation becomes dire. This is the issue our government aims to tackle. However, the Biden administration was faced with the NRA’s disapproval and controversy in Congress when trying to reauthorize Bill Clinton’s Violence Against Women Act. For now, ex-boyfriends, like Elizabeth’s, can walk freely on through the streets knowing their guns are safe from government hands; however, through activism and support for organizations like March For Our Lives, which works to end gun brutality, we can ensure that one day we will no longer have to mention women in the same breath as gun violence.

 

Works Cited

Amiri, Farnoush. “Congress votes to renew landmark domestic violence law, but with 'boyfriend loophole' intact.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 March 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/news/nation-world/violence-against-women-act-renewed-domestic-violence-gun-rights-boyfriend-loophole-20220311.html. Accessed 15 April 2022.

Dickinson, Tim, et al. “The NRA Is Trying to Block the Violence Against Women Act.” Rolling Stone, 27 March 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/nra-violence-against-women-act-814295/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“Elizabeth & Margaret | United Way of Southeast Louisiana.” United Way of Southeast Louisiana |, https://www.unitedwaysela.org/elizabeth-margaret. Accessed 15 April 2022.

Elliott, Philip. “How the NRA Weakened the Violence Against Women Act Update.” TIME, 16 March 2022, https://time.com/6158049/violence-against-women-act-nra/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“Fact Sheet: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).” The White House, 16 March 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/16/fact-sheet-reauthorization-of-the-violence-against-women-act-vawa/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“Georgia spa shootings: Suspect confesses, claims he was not racially motivated, sheriff says.” WSB-TV, 17 March 2021, https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/atlanta-spa-shootings-suspect-confesses-says-not-racially-motivated-sheriff-says/KSUOKEPYSJGIPE6LXDXBIVASHY/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

Gollan, Jennifer. “How the Updated Violence Against Women Act Would Crack Down on Domestic Abusers Who Have Guns.” Reveal | from The Center for Investigative Reporting, 23 February 2022, https://revealnews.org/article/how-the-updated-violence-against-women-act-would-crack-down-on-domestic-abusers-who-have-guns/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“Guns and Violence Against Women: America's Uniquely Lethal Intimate Partner Violence Problem | Everytown Research & Policy.” Everytown Research & Policy, https://everytownresearch.org/report/guns-and-violence-against-women-americas-uniquely-lethal-intimate-partner-violence-problem/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“Lawmakers inch closer to a deal on Violence Against Women Act.” CNN, 4 February 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/04/politics/violence-against-women-act-negotiations/index.html. Accessed 15 April 2022.

Macagnone, Michael. “Senators unveil compromise Violence Against Women Act.” Roll Call, 9 February 2022, https://rollcall.com/2022/02/09/senators-unveil-compromise-violence-against-women-act/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

Montecinos, Claudia, and Marissa Edmund. “Guns and Violence Against Women.” Center for American Progress, 5 January 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/guns-and-violence-against-women/. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“National Statistics.” NCADV, https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS. Accessed 15 April 2022.

“These women survived domestic violence. Now they're taking a stand to help others.” Amnesty International, 24 October 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/gun-violence-report/. Accessed 15 April 2022.


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