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Protecting victims

Published August 10, 2013 10:44 pm

• From The Washington Post
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Consider the following scenario: A woman ends an abusive relationship with a boyfriend. She successfully applies for a permanent restraining order against him, and, as the law stands, a period of one to two weeks passes before that application gets a hearing.

In the meantime, the woman receives only a temporary restraining order against her boyfriend, who is notified of her application and, with a proven history of violence, might seek revenge. In 33 states, that boyfriend is legally allowed to purchase a firearm before the restraining order on him becomes permanent.

All too often, we know how that story ends. In 2010, two-thirds of the women shot and killed in the United States were killed by an intimate partner, and the presence of guns in situations of domestic violence increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.

Common sense says that people under temporary restraining orders shouldn't be able to buy guns in the brief period before those restraining orders become permanent. Why does the law still allow such purchases in a significant majority of states?

Connecticut's senators, Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, are working to close that perplexing loophole. The Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act, which they plan to introduce next month, would impose a consistent standard across the nation to ban the sale of firearms to those with temporary restraining orders.

This would make it more difficult for abusers to get access to guns in the volatile period between the time their partners take action to protect themselves and the time that protection is officially granted. The New York Times reported in March that at least five women in Washington state have been shot and killed over the past decade by an intimate partner in that limbo period, and that's just one state. This bill might have saved their lives, and it will save lives if it is passed.

Of course, even after December's Sandy Hook massacre, which took place in these senators' home state, Congress failed to approve any substantive gun-control legislation, rejecting in April reasonable measures that included a ban on assault weapons and requirements for tighter background checks.

But as contentious as gun legislation always is, what Blumenthal and Murphy propose is a bill as palatable as it is implementable. It's also a logical extension of laws Congress has already passed, most notably the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which included the original ban on gun ownership for those with permanent restraining orders.

Seventeen states have extended those restrictions to include temporary orders. Research has shown that gun-related homicides among intimate partners in those states have dropped by as much as 25 percent.