October is “awareness month” for a number of very important causes – breast cancer chief among them – but unfortunately, there is one that often gets lost in the mix. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for us to address this silent epidemic that continues to plague women and families across our country and Montana.
As Montana’s president of the National Organization for Women, I work alongside many incredible individuals to fight against the oppression, discrimination and abuse of women. Fortunately, our own Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., along with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., can join us in helping save women’s lives by passing common-sense background check legislation that would reduce gun violence in homes across the country and state.
Domestic violence and gun violence are emotional issues. That’s why I think it’s helpful to look at both through the lens of numbers and facts.
The Domestic Violence Abuse Awareness Society estimates that only one in five cases of domestic violence is reported. I’ve known women who have been repeatedly threatened and abused by their spouses, intimate partners or former intimate partners. I’ve seen women stay with their abuser because they desperately hope “it won’t happen again.”
But many times, it does happen again. People with a history of committing domestic violence are more likely to murder an intimate partner. When there’s a gun in the vicinity of a domestic violence situation, a woman is 500 percent more likely to be murdered by her partner. In 2011, 44 percent of women murdered with guns in the U.S. were killed by current or former intimate partners and each month in the United States, 46 women are shot to death by current or former intimate partners.
Federal law prohibits criminals such as rapists, sex offenders and domestic abusers from buying or possessing guns. Since 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers – including more than 250,000 gun sales to domestic abusers.
We already know that background checks on all gun purchases – laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers – will save women’s lives. In states that do require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot and killed by their intimate partners. And since 1998, more than 250,000 domestic abusers have been blocked from buying guns by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
But there are gaps in the existing system that aren’t doing the job of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. The “private sale loophole” in federal law allows domestic abusers, rapists and people with severe mental illness to buy guns online and at gun shows with no questions asked.
More than half of mass shootings involve domestic violence. In at least 57 percent of the mass shootings between January 2009 and September 2013, the shooter killed a current or former intimate partner or family member.
A bipartisan background check bill in the U.S. Senate, known as the Manchin-Toomey legislation, would keep guns out of the hands of serial batterers, rapists, sex offenders and domestic abusers. Similar legislation in the U.S. House would do the same thing.
Unfortunately, Baucus voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill last April. My hope is that since then, Baucus has taken time to listen to the 79 percent of Montanans who support background checks – and to realize that background checks don’t infringe upon our Second Amendment rights in any way, shape or form. Instead, they make it tougher for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.
Someday, maybe we won’t need “awareness months” to remind us to take action on important issues. But until our elected officials take action to make domestic violence murders a thing of the past, we’ll keep fighting for common sense legislation that makes Montana women, families and communities safer.
Background checks save lives. On behalf of many women across Montana, I urge Baucus to vote for the Manchin-Toomey legislation.
Marian Bradley is president of the Montana Chapter of the National Organization for Women.