By Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, via Huffington Post
The tragic shooting in Santa Barbara last week sparked an important conversation: why aren’t we doing more to keep women safe?
For too long, women have been left out of the discussion about gun violence. We’re 54 percent of the electorate, but only 19 percent of Congress. We account for only 24 percent of all state legislators nationwide. Clearly, the laws allowing our country’s culture of gun violence are not being made by the mothers who lose eight children and teens every day to a gunshot.
And yet, ironically, our weak federal and state gun laws disproportionately affect women. American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. On average, 46 women are shot to death by a current or former husband or boyfriend every month. And those mass shootings that that occur in America with startling regularity? Fifty-seven percent of them involve domestic violence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The data we’ve collected proves that stronger gun laws actually save women’s lives. In the 16 states that have done what Congress refuses to do — close the background checks on unlicensed gun sales — 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
So why for decades has the NRA’s leaders and lobbyists actually fought against women’s best interests by working to keep guns in the hands of domestic abusers? They’ve led the opposition to proposals that would require that those subject to court-issued restraining orders relinquish their firearms. They claim nothing short of a felony conviction should restrict someone’s right to gun ownership — not even “mere issuance of court orders,” as one NRA lobbyist put it.
But in 2014, American women fought back against the NRA, and we are winning the fight to strengthen the laws on our states’ books.
Two conservative, pro-NRA governors — Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal — both signed bills into law this year that will keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers — legislation the NRA previously opposed but remained silent on this year. Wisconsin’s new law will ensure that domestic abusers comply with the law that prohibits them from possessing guns. Louisiana’s law will prohibit domestic violence offenders from possessing firearms, and, in turn, protect more women and families in a state that regularly leads the nation in domestic homicides per capita. Washington State, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont also all passed similar bipartisan legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
Putting these laws on the books — in states with strong traditions of gun ownership — is a turning point for American women. The group I founded, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is only 18 months old, but we are making substantial progress. As women and mothers collectively keep the pressure on Congress to act, our wins at the state level will keep adding up.
But the momentum isn’t confined to state capitols. Senator Klobuchar has written a sensible bill that would add domestic abusers and stalkers to the list of individuals prohibited from purchasing a gun. Strengthening the protections women have from convicted stalkers is critical because 9 in 10 attempted murders of women involve at least one incident of stalking in the year before the attempted murder.
As legislative sessions in states as different as Wisconsin, Louisiana, Washington, New Hampshire, and Minnesota have made clear, the future for the NRA’s brand of obstruction at any cost — including the lives of mothers and daughters — looks grim. Good gun laws make for good politics, too — and legislators and candidates for elected office, no matter their political parties, would do well to take note, because women and moms are paying attention.
In an election year – and perhaps, recognizing that trying to sell more guns to women while advocating on behalf of domestic abusers wasn’t a sound strategy – the NRA backed down from such an extreme and irresponsible position. But it took a movement of angry, fed-up Americans to tear down their resistance.
We’ve long had public opinion on our side (as a recent POLITICO poll confirmed). And now we’ve racked up real wins in states across the country. It’s time to take that political capital to the bank: It’s time for women and mothers to ask their elected leaders “Who do you side with, me or the NRA?”