It’s the middle of November, time to start thinking about the holidays. For many of us that means time off of work and school, allowing us to spend more time with family, something we look forward to each year.
Of course, not everyone in our community is so fortunate. For some families, the stress of the holidays can lead to an increase in domestic violence. In these cases, the work place and school are safe havens, which means the holidays can be an especially difficult and frightening time.
Since being elected Delegate, preventing and reducing domestic violence have been a legislative priority. One of the things we know about domestic violence is that the presence of a gun in the home makes it far more likely that the violence will lead to an escalation and eventually a fatal incident.
With that in mind, the first bill I introduced was HB 48, which would have made it a crime to possess a firearm after being convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
Unfortunately, my bill died on a voice vote in committee, an all too common fate for common sense gun-violence prevention legislation in the House of Delegates.
What Do Virginians Want?
According to a 2013 Quinnipiac Poll, 92 percent of those polled support background checks for people who buy guns at gun shows, 58 percent support a ban on assault weapons, 59 percent want high-capacity magazines banned, and 60 percent said that gun purchases should be limited to one per month. In 2012, the General Assembly repealed Virginia’s one handgun a month law.
Given the current make-up of the General Assembly, it is clear there is little point in introducing bills to implement these policies. Instead, I hope to focus on a specific aspect of the gun violence problem in Virginia, one that I hope carries the necessary political will. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, guns pose an acute threat in the hands of domestic abusers:
Abused women are 5 times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.
Domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. More than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1980 and 2008 were killed with firearms.
In 2011, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners.
In states requiring a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
What am I going to do as Delegate?
In 2015, I am working with my fellow legislators on three pieces of legislation designed specifically to reduce the number of lethal domestic violence incidents in the Commonwealth. Fortunately many of the goals HB 48 was designed to accomplish last year were addressed by a Supreme Court decision that said misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, regardless of the amount of force involved, could trigger Federal prohibitions on firearms possession.
However, Virginia doesn’t have a specific crime known as “domestic violence.” I am working on legislation requiring judges who find someone guilty of a crime, like assault and battery on a family member, to note in their ruling whether or not the crime was one of domestic violence. This will make it possible for someone conducting a criminal background check to see that the offender has committed a crime that disqualifies him or her from possessing a firearm.
I am also working on legislation that would create a process for surrendering firearms and other dangerous weapons after someone has been convicted of a crime where the judge has found the crime to be an act of domestic violence. Finally, I have a proposal to create a similar process for individuals subject to a domestic violence protective order to surrender their dangerous weapons to police. I realize that for the vast majority of the readers of this column, this is not an immediate concern and doesn’t affect your daily lives or your excitement for the holidays. And for that, I hope you take an extra moment to be especially thankful.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov.