Signed, Sealed & Delivered

Bringing a letter to a gun fight could help close legal loopholes that put firearms in abusers' hands.

by Lauren Landau

JWI staff and interns deliver the Interfaith Coalition's call to action to Rep. Bob Dold on June 9, 2016.

JWI staff and interns deliver the Interfaith Coalition's call to action to Rep. Bob Dold on June 9, 2016.

When abusers have guns, women die. That is a cold, hard, indisputable fact that’s supported by overwhelming evidence. The problem is clear and so is its solution: close the dangerous loopholes that give some abusers access to guns.

JWI’s Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence – a group of 36 faith-based organizations united in efforts to end violence against women and girls – is committed to closing these loopholes. Under federal law, if individuals are convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor against a current or former spouse, the parent of their child, or an intimate partner with whom they’ve lived, they are prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns.

But the law doesn’t protect those who never married, shared a home with, or had a child with their abuser. Stalking victims are also left unprotected, which poses a major risk as more than three-quarters of women killed by intimate partners were also stalked by their abuser.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are working to close these life-threatening loopholes through two bipartisan bills: H.R. 3130, the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, and S. 1520, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act.

The Interfaith Coalition issued a call to action, asking people from all spiritual backgrounds to call, email, and tweet congressional representatives and senators on May 18th to demand change and spread awareness about the intersection of guns, domestic violence, and stalking. Using the hashtags #ProtectAllWomen and #FaithsAgainstDV, people all over the country took to their phones and computers to urge elected officials to cosponsor the bills.

In a letter signed by nearly 500 clergy and national faith-based organizations, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i, the Interfaith Coalition urged members of Congress to act.

JWI's 2016 summer interns delivering the Interfaith Coalition's letter on Capitol Hill.

JWI's 2016 summer interns delivering the Interfaith Coalition's letter on Capitol Hill.

“As clergy members and faith-based organizations representing a diverse range of religious traditions, we believe that every person has the right to live free from violence and we are committed to fostering safe homes and communities,” the letter begins. “Domestic violence, dating abuse, and stalking are extreme violations of the dignity and humanity of a person, and these crimes have no place in our faith traditions.”

On June 9th, JWI staff and interns hand-delivered the letter to every member of Congress and met with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12) and Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL-10), who together introduced H.R. 3130. These two representatives come from different sides of the aisle but are united in their commitment to making sure no convicted abuser has legal access to firearms.

“No woman and no child should ever live in fear of their life or their safety because of domestic violence,” Dingell said in a press release. “We should do everything we can to prevent families from experiencing senseless tragedies. This bipartisan, commonsense bill will help ensure every woman and child is protected – and it will save lives.”

In the same statement, Dold asserted that, “As a society, we should have zero tolerance for domestic abuse and need to do everything we can to stop domestic violence from turning into domestic murder.”

Domestic violence is an epidemic in the United States, where one in four women experiences physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. To make a bad situation worse – deadly, in fact – the presence of a gun in an abusive home raises the risk of homicide for a woman by five hundred percent. (National Domestic Violence Hotline). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners.

“There is also a strong connection between stalking and future violence,” the Interfaith Coalition’s states, citing one study that found 76 percent of women murdered by a current or former intimate partner experienced stalking in the year leading up to the murder.

The Coalition also noted that, in many cases, misdemeanor stalking convictions begin as domestic violence charges. As a result, the numbers are likely more alarming than national statistics imply. The connection, however, is clear: stalkers and abusers should not have access to guns.

“Whether she’s gone on five dates, been married for five years, or had five children with him – a woman is not safe when her abuser has access to guns,” JWI CEO Lori Weinstein said in a statement. “Faith leaders, Republicans, Democrats, and gun owners support this legislation. It’s not controversial; it’s commonsense, and we need it now. Women’s lives are depending on it.”

Lauren Landau is communications manager at JWI.