HB159 Helps Domestic Violence Victims Stop Abusers From Possessing Guns. Gun Lobbyists Oppose It.


Gun laws fail safety test: Greens” by publik16 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A bill to expand the definition of domestic abuse so it includes non-physical, emotional abuse, like coercion, control, and intimidation, is being considered for final passage in the Senate today. 

The bill, HB159, was authored by Representative Malinda White, who is a domestic violence survivor. “I know what it feels like to be isolated from the world,” Representative White commented. “Coercion and control is where it starts.”

Research shows that most cases of domestic violence don’t begin with physical abuse, they begin with emotional abuse. The updated definition will help domestic violence victims obtain protective orders and escape their relationships before the situation escalates to violence. 

Andrea Caroll, an LSU law professor, spent years crafting the new definition with professionals from the Louisiana State Law Institute and nonpartisan legislators. She emphasized that domestic abuse normally doesn’t start with violence but rather controlling behavior. 

Currently, to obtain a protective order, victims typically have to demonstrate how they have been physically or sexually abused. Because of this, protection often comes too late. Experts believe this is why Louisiana leads the nation in domestic abuse fatalities. 

In fact, in 2017, Louisiana had the 2nd highest femicide rate in the United States. More than half of 2017’s femicide victims were murdered by intimate partners, and 70% of intimate partner femicides were committed using firearms.

“We’re telling victims ‘leave, leave, leave,’ yet we won’t provide any protection for you to leave until it escalates into physical violence,” said Mariah Wineski, executive director at the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It’s absurd that we would let it get that far.”

While the bill will broaden the definition of domestic abuse, proponents of the bill argue that it’s still quite narrow. According to the bill, abuse that is not physically violent, like coercion, control, and punishment, is only domestic abuse if it prevents the victim from reporting the abuse to law enforcement or escaping their relationship. 

The bill sailed through the House floor with unanimous support, only to meet resistance in the Senate from the state’s gun lobby. They oppose the bill because they said it will make it too easy for domestic violence victims to obtain protective orders that stop their abusers from possessing firearms. 

“I believe in 2nd Amendment rights and I stand with them on almost everything. But when it comes to domestic abuse, they shouldn’t be at the table — and they shouldn’t try to control the conversation,” commented Representative White, an enthusiastic gun owner. 

The NRA has suggested an amendment called the “boyfriend-loophole” which would allow abusive partners who don’t live with the victims to keep their guns. White opposes the loophole, stating that it would undermine the purpose of the bill which is to protect domestic violence victims. 

According to existing Louisiana statutes, domestic abuse “includes but is not limited to physical or sexual abuse.” The stipulation “includes but is not limited to” gives judges discretion to consider other factors like emotional abuse, however, because of the law’s vagueness judges rarely do. 

“This bill is about defining domestic abuse, and that definition isn’t up to the gun lobby,” White said. “That definition should come from subject matter experts. It should come from survivors. It should come from the people who have been doing the work to address domestic violence for decades.”

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