NRA Bemoans Domestic Violence But Lobbies For Policies That Arm Abusers

National Rifle Association commentator Billy Johnson released a video that sought to shift focus away from guns and onto domestic violence following widespread discussion of gun policy in the wake of a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. This new-found concern for domestic violence ignores both the lethal consequences of armed domestic abusers and the NRA's lengthy history of blocking measures to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

Notably, Johnson did not offer a single policy solution for domestic violence, concluding his September 30 commentary by stating, “I don't have a silver bullet to solve domestic violence, but what I do know is that we can no longer avoid this issue.” 

In his commentary, Johnson referenced mass shootings to claim, “Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Bloomberg's Demand a Plan campaign will shamelessly exploit the stories of children who are killed in tragic -- but isolated -- incidents, yet these same people are noticeably silent about millions of children and innocent adults in our country who are victims of, or witness to, violence in the place they should feel safest, their homes.” 

Johnson also stated, “If we sincerely want to decrease violence against children in our country, it's time we stop talking about AR-15s” -- the assault weapon ubiquitous for its use in mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre -- “and start talking about real threats that millions of our children face every year.” 

While Johnson concluded his video by stating that “we can no longer avoid this issue” of domestic violence, the NRA has not avoided the issue in the past. In fact, it has fought legislative efforts to remove guns from the homes of individuals subject to a restraining order because of domestic violence.

While federal law prohibits a convicted domestic abuser or individual subject to a permanent restraining order from owning a gun, abusers subject to temporary restraining orders can still buy firearms in many states. Furthermore, some states do not have a working mechanism to remove guns from the home of individuals who become prohibited owners under federal law.

The NRA has lobbied on the state level against proposals to strengthen domestic abuser firearm prohibitions. According to a March 17 New York Times article, the NRA has fought "[i]n statehouses across the country" against efforts to disarm domestic abusers who have less than a felony conviction:

In statehouses across the country, though, the N.R.A. and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations. They argue that gun ownership, as a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction -- and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington State put it to legislators, for the “mere issuance of court orders.”

The Times article identified five murder-suicides committed by individuals subject to a restraining order in Washington State and also described the NRA's repeated efforts over the past decade to lobby against proposals that would require domestic abusers to surrender their firearms.

The NRA's lobbying outfit, the Institute for Legislative Action contributed to the defeat of federal legislation in April that would have required a background check on all commercial gun purchases, closing a loophole that has been exploited by domestic abusers

The NRA's media arm, NRA News has also called for weapons possession charges to be dropped against New York linen mogul George Bardwil, who was arrested for owning a gun while under indictment for felony domestic abuse over allegations he repeatedly slammed his ex-wife's head into the ground.

Furthermore, Johnson's claim that gun violence prevention groups ignore domestic violence is plainly untrue. This month, Violence Policy Center, a gun violence prevention group, released its annual report on women murdered by men to begin discussion ahead of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. As VPC explained in a press release:

More than 1,700 women were murdered by men in 2011 and the most common type of weapon used was a firearm, according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) report When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2011 Homicide Data.

This annual report is released to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. It is the only published source of comprehensive data on females murdered by males.

The study covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender, and uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's unpublished Supplementary Homicide Report. This year's report applies to 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.

Among the figures noted by VPC, more than half of domestic violence homicides were committed with a firearm, most often a handgun. VPC also found that 94 percent of female victims were murdered by a man that they knew and that “61 percent of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.”

While Johnson claimed that gun violence prevention advocates ignore domestic violence, VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand said in a statement, “Already, many elected officials and community leaders are working tirelessly to reduce the toll of domestic violence. Yet despite these efforts, the numbers remain unacceptably high. We need new policies in place from local communities to the federal government to protect women from harm.”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), the gun violence prevention organization responsible for the Demand a Plan (now called Demand Action) project mentioned by Johnson, also often works on domestic violence issues as part of its gun violence prevention work. On April 3, MAIG released an ad featuring Elvin Daniel, whose sister was murdered, along with two other women, by her estranged husband. Even though she had a restraining order against him, he was able to purchase a firearm without a background check from a private online seller. The ad followed Daniel as he lobbied Congress for expanded background checks on gun purchases:

Accompanying the release of the ad, MAIG issued a domestic violence fact sheet that noted that in states that require a background check for all handgun sales, 38 percent fewer women are killed by intimate partners with a gun.

While Johnson said that he did not possess “a silver bullet to solve domestic violence,” gun violence prevention groups have rightfully noted that firearms are a significant factor in domestic violence, particularly incidents with lethal outcomes. 

The MAIG fact sheet noted that the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increased the risk of homicide by 500 percent for women. A 2009 article in Injury Prevention found that “Reducing access to firearms for [domestic violence restraining order] defendants, increasing police staffing levels and allowing the warrantless arrest of [domestic violence restraining order] violators may reduce the city-level risk of [intimate partner homicide].” More broadly, research by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center concluded that "[w]omen in states with many guns have elevated rates of unintentional gun deaths, suicides and homicide, particularly firearm suicides and firearm homicides."