The US’s latest gun bill will be devastating for victims of domestic violence

Hidden danger.
Hidden danger.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
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On Wednesday, the US House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. If enacted into law, it would allow concealed transport of firearms across state lines and force states to honor concealed carry permits issued elsewhere. At the moment, most states do not recognize concealed carry permits from other states.

Many are actively decrying this bill—for a lot of good reasons. One of the most resounding criticisms has to do with the fact that concealed carry reciprocity would allow people to circumvent criminal background checks. Gun control advocates have voiced concerns about nationalizing rules from a minority of states that allow concealed carry of a firearm without a permit, which could affect some of the most vulnerable populations in the country.

This act flies in the face of abundant research showing that right-to-carry laws increase rates of gun violence (paywall). Unfortunately, while the data here are clear, the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs have probably worked in the NRA’s favor in getting this bill passed. This is in part because heightened fear about events that seem out of our control tends to make people want to take action and makes them more likely to fall for the false claim that they can protect themselves with a gun. In addition, these events tend to trigger high-profile, national discussions about gun control that leave people whose political and personal identities are associated with gun ownership feeling panicked about asserting their rights.

Aside from disregarding all of the evidence we have about the dangers of lax concealed carry laws, this particular act also has serious consequences for a subset of the population that’s particularly vulnerable: victims of domestic abuse. This is especially important in part because when we take a closer look at gun violence in the US, it is immediately apparent that domestic abuse is among the leading sources of fatalities from firearms.

Here’s how this act could be devastating for victims of domestic abuse: if someone with a history of domestic abuse is denied a gun after a background check in one state, he or she could simply go to another state that does not require background checks at the point of purchase or permits for concealed carry, purchase a gun, and carry it across state lines.

While federal law technically prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing guns, the law applies only to spouses, not to any other kind of partner, such as a boyfriend. In addition, there is a loophole in the federal law for unlicensed private gun sellers, which account for at least 25% of gun sales. Finally, there are many oversights in which people with histories of domestic abuse do not get reported into the federal system, which is how the shooter in Sutherland Springs was able to obtain a gun after multiple incidents of domestic abuse that were never reported at the federal level. For all of these reasons, it is the state level laws that end up being most effective at prohibiting domestic abusers from both purchasing and carrying concealed firearms. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would undermine existing state-level restrictions that protect victims of domestic abuse.

This is a problem, because there is plenty of research to indicate that the best predictor of future violence is past violence. In addition, research has shown that when there are firearms in the home of someone with a history of domestic abuse, the potential for homicide increases by 500%.

One of the most effective ways to minimize the harm associated with domestic violence is to ensure that a person who has a history of perpetrating domestic violence does not have easy access to firearms. Twenty seven states (paywall) in the US have laws restricting access to firearms for people with this history. Seventeen of the 27 have further laws (paywall) that require people with domestic violence convictions to turn in firearms they already own. The NRA has responded to these laws by claiming that the true answer is to arm victims of domestic violence so they can fight off their abusers. This kind of logic is absolutely backwards and has no basis in any of the evidence, which clearly shows that adding more guns to the mix makes things infinitely more dangerous.

Since domestic violence is one of the most common scenarios for firearm use and restricting access to firearms is an important method of preventing fatalities from domestic violence, the concealed carry reciprocity law is likely to result in more serious injuries and deaths.

The bill has been condemned by organizations working to curb gun violence and domestic abuse. Everytown for Gun Safety has expressed the concern that “A majority of states have taken steps to block abusive dating partners and/or convicted stalkers from carrying concealed handguns, but ‘concealed carry reciprocity’ would undermine these state laws.” The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has stated that the act “would make it simple for abusers to threaten and harass—and kill—their intimate partners with firearms.”

Following the House Judiciary Committee’s approval this week, the bill will now come for a vote before the full House. Organizations such as Everytown are urging people to contact their representatives about the enormous harm this bill would do if made law. Even if we can’t prevent every instance of domestic violence, we can at least ensure that these incidents do not escalate to the point that lives are lost. The concealed carry reciprocity act is not only dangerous, it is irresponsible. We must use the evidence we have to protect vulnerable members of our society. There is no excuse for doing otherwise.

This article has been updated to reflect that the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act has not yet been made law and to further clarify how this bill would impact domestic violence victims..