Casey urges expanding federal gun ban to more violent abusers

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele speak at Laurel House

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele speak at Laurel House

Since the 1996, federal law has restricted gun ownership for some — but not all — who have violently abused their partners.

Now, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is promoting a bill to expand the reach of that law.

“We want to do two things. One is to expand the definition of ‘intimate partner’ to include the dating context,” said Casey at a news conference at Laurel House, a women’s shelter in Norristown, on Wednesday.

Under existing laws — known as the Lautenberg amendment to the Violence Against Women Act — a domestic abuser is defined as someone currently or formerly married to, having a child with, or living with the victim.

But that leaves out many casual abusers who continue to stalk, batter and sometimes kill their partners, victim advocates say. Women in an abusive relationship are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if their partner has access to a gun, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health and frequently quoted by gun-control advocates.

The bill, which Casey has co-sponsored, also would keep anyone convicted of stalking, a misdemeanor, from owning a guns. The law already bars violent felons from owning a firearm, and several studies have show domestic violence is often preceded by stalking.

Many recent measures proposing limits on who can own guns, and what kind of guns, have failed to get out of the gate in Congress.

Following the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Casey has advocated further gun regulation. Since then, none of his or other congressional efforts to restrict gun access have passed.

“Literally, a terrorist, or a suspected terrorist, can still get a weapon,” said Casey. “But just to schedule a vote on that, our side had to engage in a filibuster.” That bill failed, although 39 states have passed more than 100 of their own restrictions.

Arguing over domestic violence and its ramifications for gun owners is not the exclusive purview of those seeking to restrict access. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by two Maine men who argued that “reckless” but “unintentional” domestic abuse should not bar them from gun ownership. In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said “reckless” actions have long appeared in the legal definition of domestic violence.

Speaking at the press conference, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele recalled a case he had prosecuted in which a man killed his wife while their kids were in the same house.

“This is a reality in our county,” he said. “It’s one we have to face and shed light on.”

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