Daily Bulletin: Senators Look to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act – The Trace

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee conduct a news conference on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on March 17.
Tom Williams/AP

What To Know Today

Senators pledge to introduce Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to renew the lapsed legislation that had created sweeping protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. At the time, Jennifer Mascia parsed the bill’s proposed gun restrictions, which engendered fierce opposition among congressional Republicans. Now, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, Lisa Murkowski, and Joni Ernst have reached a bipartisan agreement on a Senate version, which includes closing the boyfriend loophole in federal law that allows non-spousal dating partners with misdemeanor abuse convictions to keep their guns. Under the Senate framework, this new gun restriction would only apply to protective orders and convictions after VAWA reauthorization. The Senate agreement does not mention other gun-related provisions from the House bill, including firearm bans for people convicted of misdemeanor stalking or subject to a temporary restraining order, or a requirement that the Justice Department must report failed background checks to local police. “We are committed to introducing a bipartisan, modernized VAWA reauthorization next month,” the senators wrote. Related: In January, we published a story about Rosemarie Reilly, whose ex-boyfriend shot and killed her in 2016. Three weeks before, Reilly obtained a protective order, but the judge skipped over a box that would have removed the man’s access to firearms.

Gun industry sues New York over law that makes it easier for people to sue them. In July, the state enacted a first-in-nation law creating a pathway to sidestep the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that gives the gun industry blanket protection from lawsuits alleging harm caused by the very weapons the industry produces. The New York bill requires that gun companies implement “reasonable controls” to prevent their guns from being used, marketed, or sold illegally in the state. If they don’t, the law would declare their actions a public nuisance and expose them to civil liability lawsuits. On Thursday, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, and 14 gun manufacturers, distributors, and retailers filed suit in federal court. They argue in part that the New York law violates both PLCAA and the Constitution’s commerce clause by allowing New York to regulate gun business that originates outside its borders. New York Attorney General Letitia James seemed undaunted in a statement, telling constituents the state was prepared to fight: “Make no mistake: We will aggressively defend this law and won’t back down against their continued attempts to endanger New Yorkers.”

Chicago tops 800 homicides for the year, a 15-year record. As of Wednesday, there were 812 homicides this year, most of them carried out with guns, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. The tally is up 5.5 percent from last year, and higher than any other year since 1996. “One of the responses to COVID was being there to support people, handing out food and PPE,” the assistant secretary of Illinois’s new Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, tells WBEZ. “But we did very little with mental health and being there for individuals as they were suffering through trauma of not only just a pandemic, but seeing violence on a day-to-day basis.”

A riveting investigation of how two “brothers in arms” stole and plotted to sell Army guns. An Associated Press investigation looks at Tyler Sumlin and Jason Jarvis, who met on active duty in Afghanistan and later hatched a plan to sell guns and other weapons stolen from an arsenal in Fort Bragg. The two were apprehended in a 2018 sting in a Texas border town, where they had planned to contact a buyer they believed was connected to the illicit Mexican weapons market. Army criminal investigators valued the items Sumlin, Jarvis, and their accomplices stole between 2014 and 2018 at close to $180,000, but only recovered about $26,000 worth. The AP story recounts how the pair ultimately received five years’ probation after many of the eight federal charges they’d faced were dropped.

Data Point

79 percent — the share of homicides in which a firearm was used in 2020, the highest proportion on record. [CDC WONDER database]

Tom Kutsch is The Trace’s newsletter editor.

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