Last year, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio broke with many of his Republican colleagues to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. That took courage.
But the victims of domestic violence protected by that measure are less safe today because of another vote by Mr. Portman, rejecting comprehensive background checks that would have helped keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other dangerous individuals.
Common-sense legislation offered by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey — a Democrat and a Republican, both with “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association — would have closed dangerous loopholes in our gun laws by requiring background checks for all private gun sales in commercial settings, including online and at gun shows.
The connection between domestic abuse and gun violence often goes overlooked. But 46 women — mothers, daughters, sisters, loved ones — are shot to death by a current or former intimate every month in America.
Current law prohibits domestic abusers and other criminals from purchasing guns. Only federally licensed dealers, however, are required to conduct background checks that would actually prevent such people from arming themselves.
This lethal gap allows millions of guns to be sold privately every year, with no paperwork and no questions asked. That puts us all in the line of fire.
Each year, an estimated 6.6 million guns are transferred without a background check. In Michigan, police found that almost half of state handgun transfers are conducted privately.
But thanks to Michigan’s strong laws, these handgun transfers are accompanied by background checks, no matter how or where they’re sold. Not surprisingly, Michigan and the dozen-plus other states that require background checks for private handgun sales have 38 percent fewer domestic-violence homicides than states such as Ohio, where loose gun laws cater to criminals.
All too often, domestic violence is perpetrated with a firearm. Over the past 25 years, more intimate-partner homicides have been committed with a gun than with all other weapons combined. The presence of a gun in domestic-violence situations makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed.
Domestic gun violence frequently affects more than just the terrorized spouse or partner. More often than not, mass shootings in which four or more people are killed involve domestic violence. In Ohio, recent mass shootings in Oak Harbor, Cleveland, and Newton Falls originated as incidents of domestic violence.
Such tragedies could be prevented if we had a more robust, comprehensive background check system like the one proposed by Senators Manchin and Toomey. But Mr. Portman joined a minority of his Senate colleagues to block this sensible compromise, claiming it would infringe on our Second Amendment rights.
He’s wrong. An expanded background check system would reaffirm our civil liberties by keeping guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill people, and others who have forfeited their right to bear arms.
Any law-abiding woman who wants a gun to defend herself would not be burdened by these checks. More than 90 percent of the time, they take less than two minutes to complete.
More than 80 percent of Senator Portman’s constituents support mandatory background checks for the sale of every gun, no matter how it’s sold. Nationally, more than 8 of 10 gun owners think the same thing, according to a 2012 survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz on behalf of the bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Senator Portman turned his back on the views of his constituents by voting against the Manchin-Toomey compromise. He and a minority of Senators have stalled the legislation, leaving our country’s women vulnerable to convicted domestic abusers who can stroll into any gun show and buy firearms anonymously.
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network and its member programs serve tens of thousands of women and children every year. But there’s only so much we can do to protect them without better laws.
State lawmakers in Ohio have introduced bills that would protect women from gun violence. The impact of state legislation, though, is limited by the free flow of guns across state lines.
Gun violence is a national problem. It demands a national solution. Senator Portman has stood up for what’s right in the past, and he has an opportunity to do so again.
If Mr. Portman is really serious about preventing violence against women, he ought to reconsider his vote against legislation that would prevent domestic abusers from getting guns. The safety of Ohio’s women depends on it.
Nancy Neylon is executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.