Take guns away from stalkers – a very good idea

open book on table with judges gavel and scale. News sources reported this week that the National Rifle Association (NRA) will oppose the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. The NRA is taking issue with the “red-flag” provision that seeks to prevent people who have committed domestic violence from obtaining firearms. The VAWA was first legislated in 1994 to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence. Congress is set to vote to reauthorize the Act in April. New legislation is being proposed to expand the prohibitive category beyond spouses to include anyone convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a dating partner as well as those subject to a restraining order. The previous legislation limited the definition to spouses or ex-spouses. Perpetrators of domestic homicide are most often male.[1]

NRA spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker said that for “many” of those offenses… the behaviour that would qualify as a stalking offense is often not violent or threatening; it involves no personal contact whatsoever.”[2] She could not be more mistaken. The absence of physical contact does not mitigate the physical threat that is inherently present in stalking behaviour. In fact, death reviews have shown that stalking is one of the highest risk behaviours for domestic homicide and it signals an escalating situation. For the woman being stalked, her workplace is one place where he can find her. Studies have shown that stalking at work is a serious issue – for her and for her co-workers. For this very reason, all workers need to be trained to recognize warning signs of abusive behaviour and risk factors for homicide.

Annual reports from the Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee consistently cite stalking as one of the top ten risk indicators for lethality.[3]  “Identifying risk factors for domestic homicide provides us with important opportunities to intervene and potentially avert a tragic situation,” explains Barb MacQuarrie, Community Director at the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children at Western University. Expanding the legislation to include dating partners and acquaintances is an important vehicle to save lives.

Beyond diminishing risks to the couple, taking guns away from violent offenders will also save other lives. Recent cases of mass killings have connected the dots between a past history of domestic abuse and multiple murders in public places. Analysis of FBI data showed that over a five-year period, 54 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. were related to domestic or family violence and included the killing of a partner or other family members.[4] Researchers have referred to this type of killing as “collateral intimate partner homicide.” Taking away guns from men who hurt their partners, whether they are spouses, boyfriends or dating acquaintances who have acted violently toward a girl or woman, is an important step toward broader public safety.



[1] The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee reviewed 368 cases of domestic homicide between the years of 2002-2016. Perpetrators were male in 97% cases. See: http://cdhpi.ca/sites/cdhpi.ca/files/2017-DVDRC-Report.pdf

[2] Stolberg, SG. New York Times, April 1, 2019: Why the N.R.A. Opposes New Domestic Abuse Legislation. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/us/politics/nra-domestic-violence-congress.html.

[3] For a list of domestic violence risk factors go to: http://www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca/?q=how-to-help/helping-abused-women

[4] Welch, A. CBS News, November 8, 2017. Link seen between domestic violence and mass killings. See: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/link-between-domestic-violence-mass-killings/