US House passes new protections for women, but gun provision could doom Bill

Representative Debbie Dingell (centre) said a loophole in the Violence Against Women Act allowing someone convicted of domestic violence or stalking to buy and keep guns needed to be closed.
Representative Debbie Dingell (centre) said a loophole in the Violence Against Women Act allowing someone convicted of domestic violence or stalking to buy and keep guns needed to be closed.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - The United States House of Representatives passed an update to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Thursday (April 4) that protects transgender women, assists victims facing eviction and ends impunity for abuse of Native women on tribal lands.

The Act, originally signed into law in 1994, criminalised physical abuse against women at the federal level and provided government funding for victim services, advocate training, shelters and prevention education.

Funding for the Bill lapsed at the end of 2018.

"In the 25 years since it was enacted, violence against women by a spouse or an intimate partner has dropped by 65 per cent," said Representative Debbie Dingell, speaking from the House floor on Thursday morning. "We need to build on that progress."

This year's extension had largely bipartisan support, with the main sticking point being a provision closing the "boyfriend loophole", which allows convicted stalkers and some abusers to buy and keep guns.

Currently, only abusers who are married to, living with, or have a child with their partner are prevented from owning firearms.

"We are trying to save lives," said Ms Dingell on Wednesday in front of the US Capitol. "Why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted - convicted, not accused - convicted of domestic violence or stalking, that they not have access to a gun?"

The National Rifle Association stated its support for VAWA, in an e-mail to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, but said the gun control provisions politicised the issue.

"It's unfortunate that the anti-gun leadership in the US House allowed the Bill to expire for the purpose of using it to advance their gun control agenda and we are hopeful the US Senate will advance this important legislation without Nancy Pelosi's gun control provisions," said NRA spokesman Jennifer Baker.

In the US, 50 women are shot and killed every month by an intimate partner or former partner, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit that advocates for gun control in the US.

Also, women are five times more likely to be murdered by a partner who owns a gun, according the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Bill, which passed 263 to 158 in the 435-seat body, must still pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and be signed by President Donald Trump, a strong supporter of the NRA.