(Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Years ago, I sat on a bench with a group of women in a neighborhood park watching my toddler play in the sandbox. A young woman sitting next to me and commented on how adorable my sweetie was. No better way to get a young mother talking than that. So after trading a few more comments on my two-year old, I asked her if she lived near the park like me. Her answer startled me, “I’m officially homeless as of 8 am this morning.”
I turned and stared at her. “I called the police to tell them that my boyfriend was threatening me with a gun. They came immediately, but instead of arresting him, they told me to leave the apartment because I was agitating him.” Smiling at my confusion, she showed me a black-and-blue mark on her arm and said, “How do you think I got this?” Then she said that the police advised her she to never go back because they couldn’t guarantee her safety. “It’s my apartment, under my name, I furnished it and pay the rent! I should at least be able to get my clothes. ” I couldn’t think of anything to say as she wandered off muttering, “I need to find a shelter somewhere.”
This is the scene I think of when contemplating the Violence Against Women Act. A gun in a home where a woman has been abused is more likely to be used against her than for her protections. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health, documented that 85 % of the 417 women residing in California battered women’s shelters did not feel safer when there was a gun in the home. They should be afraid, very afraid. Research shows that women who have been abused by their partner are five times as likely to be killed by that partner if he has access to a gun.
Yet, both Shannon Goessling, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Office of Violence Against Women, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) say that the answer to domestic violence is more guns. They ignore research showing how guns and male intimates are major elements in the murder of women and that the “vicious male predators” they conjure up are actually current and former loved ones with guns.
Further, the data demonstrates that guns haven’t protected women from abusers as often as they’ve been used against them by abusers. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) helps protect women by making it harder for abusive partners and stalkers to obtain a gun. The Act was originally passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized three times. The NRA objects to new language in the Act that prohibits firearms sales to convicted stalker or anyone who has a restraining order against them. Never mind that at least 52 women are killed every month by an intimate partner using a gun. Never mind that almost 1 million women have survived a gun attack by an intimate partner. Never mind that women in America are 21 times more likely to be killed by a gun than in any other well-developed country.
The Bill passed the House and we’ll see what happens next. But know that the NRA is planning on using the Violence Against Women Act as a litmus tests on whether members of Congress place Second Amendment rights at the top of their political agendas. Will money and power succeed in denying women VAWA protection? Will they be left, at best, to wander around parks because their lives matter less than a male intimate with a gun?