The National Rifle Association is opposing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act over provisions designed to keep domestic abusers from having access to firearms.
The pro-gun group told HuffPost it will issue a “key vote” alert against VAWA, which warns members of Congress that their vote on the legislation will be scored and included in their NRA rating.
According to a report by the National Journal, some Republicans reportedly wanted the NRA to take a stand so they could have political cover to vote against it.
On March 7, a bill to reauthorize and expand VAWA, a landmark domestic violence law, was introduced in the House. The law expired in late December during the partial government shutdown, but was extended just a few more weeks after a short-term spending deal reopened the government.
On top of making improvements in services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, the reauthorization bill aims to tighten gun laws for domestic abusers.
Under federal law, individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses against their spouses or family members are already barred from owning firearms. But the law does not apply to individuals who abuse their dating partners. The VAWA reauthorization bill would fix that, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
It would also prohibit individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses ― which experts believe can be a predictor of future violence ― from owning or purchasing firearms.
The NRA has not weighed in on VAWA reauthorizations in past years, NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen told HuffPost. But the organization is coming out against the bill this time because it expands the list of misdemeanor convictions that result in permanent firearm prohibitions, she said.
(Under federal law, people convicted of felonies automatically lose the privilege of possessing firearms in most cases.)
“The fact that Nancy Pelosi and her minions of anti-gun zealots insist on adding a gun-control poison pill to an otherwise good bill is just another example of the shameful politics Americans hate and why they have such a negative view of politicians,” she said.
The reauthorization bill also includes a provision that would make it illegal for individuals subject to temporary protective orders to own a firearm. Currently, under federal law, only abusers subject to permanent protective orders ― which are granted after a full court hearing where the accused individual can state his case ― lose the right to own or buy a gun.
For years, domestic violence advocates have been working to expand the ban to temporary protective orders, which are often issued “ex parte,” meaning that only the person who is making the allegations needs to be present at the hearing.
Advocates say that victims are in the most danger right when they file for a protective order, and need to be protected during this volatile time.
The NRA opposes this provision because it lacks due process protections, Mortensen said. But advocates disagree, noting that individuals still get a hearing, scheduled soon after the emergency order, at which they can contest the evidence against them.
Domestic violence is more likely to turn deadly with a gun in the mix. According to one study, domestic violence victims are 5 times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun. In the U.S., a woman is killed by an intimate partner with a gun every 16 hours.
It is unclear what effect the NRA’s position on VAWA will have on its chances of passage. But the group’s decision to issue a key-vote alert may encourage some Republican lawmakers to oppose it, so that their NRA rating ― which voters may use to decide whether to support them ― does not fall.
The NRA has long been a powerful force in U.S. politics, though there are signs its influence is waning. Last year, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, led to a push for stronger gun laws and a student-led movement that in November helped elect Democrats who favor gun control.
“You can’t reduce violence against American women without also reducing gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement. “Lawmakers must pass the Violence Against Women Act, which will make it harder for abusers to get armed and easier for law enforcement to protect victims.”
Earlier this month, House Republicans also tried ― and failed ― to repeal a major VAWA provision that helps tribes respond to violence against Native American women by non-Native men on tribal land. The House Judiciary Committee ultimately rejected an amendment from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) to repeal the provision. Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the provision respects tribes’ “inherent sovereign authority” on their own lands to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Native abusers.