Dingell provision in Violence Against Women Act again draws NRA ire

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. House voted 244-172 Wednesday to reauthorize the expired Violence Against Women Act with a gun-reform provision by Michigan U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell that has drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association.

Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, spoke passionately Wednesday about the need to renew the broader law, which enhances federal domestic and sexual violence protections for women. 

Dingell has openly discussed growing up in a household where she lived with domestic violence, noting statistics that 1 in 15 children also witness domestic violence.

"We don't forget about hiding in closets. Or our father taking locks off of doors. Or my grabbing a gun from my father, so he wouldn't kill my mother, and being convinced that we would die," Dingell said of her early life with her siblings.

"It is time that this bill be reauthorized. Constant volatile situations are dangerous and have devastating consequences." 

Dingell’s measure, which she first introduced as a separate bill in 2015, would not have applied to her family's situation growing up.

It aims to close the so-called "boyfriend" loophole by amending federal law to prohibit convicted abusers of current or former dating partners from purchasing or owning firearms.

Currently, those convicted of domestic abuse can lose their weapons only if their victim is their current or former spouse, or they have a child with the victim. 

Dingell's provision also would prohibit firearm ownership by people convicted of misdemeanor stalking.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, speaks about her efforts with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, to close the ‘boyfriend’ loophole at the U.S. Capitol on April 3, 2019.

The NRA opposes the legislation over the provision, arguing there are no “loopholes” for domestic violence or stalking, and that the legal system has sufficient protections to prohibit dangerous individuals from possessing firearms.

The gun owners group has said "former dating partners" is a subjective term that could be abused and noted that some misdemeanor stalking offenses don't include violent or threatening behavior or even personal contact. 

The NRA also fought the Dingell provision when the House reauthorized the bill in 2019, when the legislation died in the Republican-led Senate. 

"The NRA did not score the legislation until last Congress because it never impacted Second Amendment rights," said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

"However, Speaker Pelosi and anti-gun lawmakers chose to insert gun control provisions into this bill in 2019 to pit pro-gun lawmakers against it so that they can falsely and maliciously claim these lawmakers don’t care about women," Ouimet added.

"This is Washington at its filthiest. It’s proof that anti-gun lawmakers care more about smearing opponents than passing meaningful legislation.” 

Dingell, who co-founded the bipartisan Working Group to End Domestic Violence, has rejected the idea that her measure "poisons" the legislation, which previously was reauthorized with bipartisan support.

"I’m not trying to take guns away from responsible gun owners,"Dingell said. "I’m trying to keep men and women from dying."

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee,faces an uncertain fate in the divided Senate.

Dingell noted that in the early months of the pandemic, calls to the national domestic violence hotline were up 9%, but said the calls don't reflect the total number of people affected.

"We are working very hard on the Senate. It’s time. This pandemic has endangered many women and children," Dingell said.

"I talked to my sister last night. We do not want anyone to go through what we did as children."