Community members and elected officials met outside Bethany House in Baldwin on Monday to learn more about a proposed bill that would help prevent domestic abusers from buying guns.
“This is us taking steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them,” U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice said at the news conference. “Not everyone should have a gun. If you have violent tendencies, you should not be able to get a gun.”
Bethany House, at 625 DeMott Ave., is a nonprofit that provides shelter and services for homeless women and children, many of whom who have been physically abused. Rice was joined by Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son, Scott, was killed last year in the Parkland, Fla., shooting; members of the Moms Demand Action Long Island chapter; and representatives of Long Island Against Domestic Violence, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Bethany House and the Safe Center Long Island.
Rice, a Democrat from Garden City, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, introduced the bill, called the Domestic Violence Records Reporting Improvement Act, to mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The representatives said the bill would create incentives for states to provide complete domestic violence records to federal background check databases.
“There are indicators, very often through law enforcement — government-ordered protection, an arrest for a domestic violence case — that indicate that you are maybe not the right person to have a gun,” Rice said. “And that is a reasonable restriction on certain people, not everyone. There’s no reason for law enforcement to have information that’s relevant to a determination as to whether or not someone should get a gun and that information is not put into a national database.”
If enacted, the bill would encourage states to improve domestic violence records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Rice said, by making them eligible for NICS Act Record Improvement Program grants, if the primary purpose of the funds were to improve the accessibility of domestic violence records in the system. The grants would be available to states to improve the reporting of criminal history, mental health and protection order records to NICS for gun purchase background checks.
States would be unable to apply for the grants if they had not implemented a program that provided a way for people subject to the mental health disqualifiers to regain their gun eligibility. The proposed bill would remove that legal barrier so the states that wished to improve domestic violence reporting were not denied funding that could help them to do so. Currently, 21 states do not have a qualifying program in place, according to a news release.
“The presence of a gun increases the risk of fatality by 500 percent for people affected by domestic violence,” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said in a statement. The bill, “if passed, will help close an important loophole to keep abusers from having access to guns and effectively save lives.”
The federal background check requirement involves a search through NICS, a group of databases maintained by the FBI using information provided mostly by states and local governments, according to a news release, and the extent to which domestic violence records are accessible varies from state to state. Many states do not have protocols to distinguish misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from other convictions in their records, and many states do not provide enough information to NICS about restraining orders.
Without the information, NICS cannot readily identify whether a conviction or restraining order disqualifies a person from possessing a gun, meaning that domestic abusers can still pass a NICS background check. According to the Government Accountability Office, inadequacies in the records allowed domestic abusers to pass background checks and obtain guns more than 6,700 times between 2006 and 2015.
“I am proud . . . to take reasonable steps towards improving the way we report domestic violence, criminal history and mental health cases to protect our citizens and save lives,” Turner said in a statement. “We continue to hear the same story after each mass shooting: There were warning signs that the shooter should not have had access to a firearm. The mass shooter in Dayton passed a background check. We need to do more to prevent these tragedies.”
Many gun and domestic violence prevention organizations have advocated for the bill, including Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Joyful Heart Foundation, Newtown Action Alliance, Survivors Lead, Vision Quilt, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Brady United Against Gun Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Everytown for Gun Safety, March for Our Lives and the Violence Policy Center.
“Each year, more than 600 women in America are shot and killed by an intimate partner. That’s one woman every 16 hours,” Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, said in a statement. “It’s critical that we do everything in our power to ensure disqualifying records are put into the NICS system so domestic abusers cannot access guns, making violent situations even deadlier.”
Research shows that victims of domestic violence are at a significantly higher risk of being killed if their abusers own or have access to a gun. Of all of the women shot to death in the U.S each year, half are killed by their intimate partners.
“Children who grow up in homes where they’re witnessing domestic violence between their parents are that much more likely to either become a victim of domestic violence in the future when they get older, or become a domestic abuser,” Rice said. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say we have a problem here in Nassau County, but we are no different than any county across this country. This is a crime that happens every single day within the privacy of people’s homes, where they should be safe.”