The U.S. House on Thursday voted to renew and expand legislation that aids victims of domestic violence, setting the stage for a battle in the Senate.
House lawmakers voted 263-158 to reauthorize the 1994 legislation that funds programs like rape crisis centers, shelters and legal services to victims of domestic abuse. House Democrats were joined by 33 Republicans in approving the measure. The domestic violence law expired in February, and advocates warn that critical programs will be in jeopardy if it’s not renewed.
The law has long had bipartisan support, but it has become contentious this Congress as newly empowered House Democrats are seeking to expand the measure. The National Rifle Association is opposing a provision in the bill from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) that makes it easier to keep guns from those convicted of domestic abuse or stalking.
The issue is personal for Dingell. “This is something that I care very, very deeply about, because I lived in that household,” she told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol earlier this week. Dingell has publicly recounted how she hid in a closet from her father, who suffered from mental illness.
“I know what it’s like to live in a household with someone that has issues that can snap at a minute’s notice, and suddenly the gun is pointed at your mother or pointed at you. And as a child, you’re trying to grab a gun from someone and keep them from killing each other.”
But the NRA has called the new gun enforcement language a “poison pill,” arguing that it’s too broad and threatens the rights of gun owners.
Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote on Thursday, Dingell implored her colleagues, “Do not let the NRA bully you. This is not a poison pill.”
Maryland lawmakers split along partisan lines, with U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) voting against the legislation and all seven Democratic House members voting for it.
The legislation held particular resonance for Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), whose cousin Cathy was shot and killed by an estranged boyfriend in 2008 – in front of two police officers.
“Domestic abusers and stalkers should not own or buy firearms, period,” Brown said in a statement.
Included within the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act are provisions laid out in H.R.511, introduced by Brown in May 2017 and reintroduced at the beginning of the 116th Congress. These provisions are intended to help prevent “intimate partner homicides” by expanding firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence from possessing firearms. The provisions also prohibit persons convicted of misdemeanor stalking and individuals subject to ex parte protective orders from possessing firearms.
“While there is nothing that will bring Cathy back, our VAWA reauthorization closes the dating partner loophole, stalking loophole, and temporary restraining order loophole that expose thousands of families to the horror my own experienced by letting abusers buy and keep their guns,” Brown said.