Three minutes after the last wedding party guest left the Indiana home of Kelly Ecker and Dr. Scott Samson on Sunday morning, Kelly made the first of three terrified 911 calls claiming her new husband was going to kill her. Soon after, her husband shot her to death and then killed himself.
It’s a shocking story, and the worst part is that Kelly is not alone. Every month, an average of 48 American women are shot to death by a current or former intimate partner.
The evidence is clear: we can stop gun violence against women by enacting universal background checks and closing the loopholes that allow dangerous people to access guns so easily. In states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
To make this happen, we have to elect legislators who are willing to stand up to the gun lobby. That’s why it’s so important that women use our votes to elect leaders with gun sense in November.
Currently, our lawmakers are not doing enough to protect women from domestic gun violence. Mass shootings make the headlines but you may not realize that in the majority of these tragedies – 57 percent according to an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis – the perpetrator killed an intimate partner or family member.
More American women die each year at the hands of dating partners rather than spouses, and yet federal lawmakers have done nothing to prevent abusive dating partners or convicted stalkers from purchasing a firearm. More broadly, millions of guns are sold every year without a background check, so the ease with which a prohibited purchaser can buy a gun in this country is hard to overstate. The costs of these gaps in our gun laws are deadly.
Take 17-year-old Sierra Landry, from Lancaster, South Carolina. Her 18-year-old boyfriend was charged with criminal domestic violence after he assaulted Sierra, and a judge issued a restraining order against him. If he and Sierra had been married or lived together, he would have been prohibited from buying or owning a gun, but the law doesn’t apply to dating partners, so neither a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction nor a restraining order would prohibit him from buying or owning a gun. He got a gun, and after Sierra refused to get back together with him, he shot and killed her.
Or Jenny Marie Cavender, from Bryant, Arkansas. A nurse at Saline Memorial Hospice, she was leaving work when her ex-boyfriend fatally shot her before turning the gun on himself. The couple’s relationship had been a turbulent one and Jenny Marie had an order of protection against her abusive ex-boyfriend. But because they were dating partners who never married or lived together, federal law did nothing to keep guns out of his hands.
It’s too late to save Sierra and Jenny Marie, but the good news is that at the state level we’re making progress, and we have achieved significant victories this year.
Louisiana lawmakers barred those convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun for 10 years. The Minnesota legislature stopped abusers under restraining orders from possessing a gun and prohibited convicted domestic abusers from possessing any gun, expanding on the state’s previous rule that only forbid handguns. And New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin all passed similar laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
Some will argue that the best way to protect women is by arming them, but the facts show that isn’t true. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed.
The best thing we can do for survivors of domestic violence is to provide them with avenues of support and ensure that the laws don’t make their lives harder or more dangerous. We need leaders at every level — state, local and federal — to understand the lives of women matter more than their NRA rating. We must enact the reforms necessary to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and that work begins with our vote on November 4.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nonpartisan grassroots movement of American mothers demanding new and stronger solutions to lax gun laws and loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our children and families