BOSTON (CBS) – Since 1994, the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has provided help for police and other agencies in their battle against domestic violence.
But the funding for it ran out during the recent government shutdown. And a bitter partisan fight has broken out ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote to restore it.
“All women deserve the right to live free from fear and that is what today is all about,” said President Barack Obama in 2013 when he signed the third re-authorization of the VAWA. But in a sign of things to come, that round of re-funding lacked the automatic bipartisan support of previous efforts, as Republicans objected to extending domestic violence protection funding to same-sex couples and other new measures.
And the bill to be voted on Thursday includes something Democrats have long sought – removal of the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allows unmarried men with violent records to do what married men cannot: buy a gun.
“Why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted – convicted, not accused, convicted – of domestic violence or stalking, that they not have access to a gun?” says Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan).
But the National Rifle Association begs to differ, and in a key test of their congressional clout, they’re pushing Republicans to keep the boyfriend loophole.
In a video posted on the Heritage Foundation website, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Arizona), herself a survivor of abuse by her estranged ex-husband, makes the case that extending the gun ban to boyfriends and stalkers is an unfair abridgement of their constitutional rights.
“In the case of my ex-husband, he really should have had his gun rights taken away because he was a threat,” she says. “However, he did not have the ability of due process to defend himself. This is just wrong.”
But domestic violence survivor Kate Randa isn’t buying it. “The NRA wants to oppose the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization on the grounds that violent abusive men still have a right to their firearms? Are you kidding me?”
Rep. Lesko says this is all about politics, that Democrats want to trap Republicans into voting against the VAWA so they can claim the GOP doesn’t care about women. And the NRA, which has recently seen longtime allies desert them on issues like banning bump stocks, is making this a test case of loyalty to their cause.