October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As a domestic violence survivor, community volunteer and an activist working for over 10 years to promote violence-prevention efforts and victim support services, I'm all too aware of how a gun in the hands of a domestic abuser dramatically increases the risk of fatality.
Gun violence prevention is a critical part of this conversation, especially to all the victims – women, children and men – who are trapped in the cycle of violence and abuse.
Here in Washington, we have a real chance to help reduce these terrible cases by voting “yes” on Initiative 594, the common-sense initiative to close the background check loophole that allows domestic abusers and other dangerous people to evade a background check and obtain guns with no questions asked.
Currently in Washington, people buying guns at one of the nearly 1,100 licensed dealers in Washington – like Wal-Mart– are subject to background checks. These checks help keep guns out of dangerous hands. Since 1998, federal background checks have blocked more than 40,000 gun sales to prohibited purchasers in Washington, and more than 6,000 of those were potential sales to domestic abusers.
Unfortunately, those same individuals could go to a gun show or online to a gun marketplace like Armslist.com and buy a gun from a stranger with no background check and no questions asked. I-594 would close this loophole simply using the same quick and effective background checks the licensed dealers in our state have used for decades.
Domestic abusers are among the most likely to use this dangerous loophole, and the consequences are too often devastating. Last spring, Tri-Cities resident Monique Williams was murdered by her intimate partner, Aaron Newport, a convicted felon with a history of domestic abuse. After a break-up that left Newport angry and violent, he tried to buy a gun at a dealer but was immediately denied through a background check.
Newport knew he could still buy a gun online. With a few clicks and an in-person meeting, he had a .40 Springfield XD pistol. He broke into Williams’ house, assaulted her and shot her in the head before killing himself.
Initiative 594 won’t prevent all incidents of gun violence – unfortunately, nothing will. But we know background checks can help save lives. In the states that require background checks on all handgun sales, there are 38 percent fewer women shot to death by their abusers.
This isn’t just a statistic – this number represent real women who can be saved by closing the background check loophole in Washington.
The other measure on the ballot this year, Initiative 591, will keep that background check loophole open. This measure was sponsored expressly to block I-594, and will weaken our existing gun laws by rolling back the background checks we currently have at the state level.
As The News Tribune editorial board recently wrote, “Do you like background checks for firearms sales? If you do, vote for I-594 and against I-591. That’s what we recommend. We can’t think of one good reason not to screen gun-seekers for criminal records and severe mental illnesses.”
As ballots arrive this week, please vote early and vote to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous individuals. Vote “yes” on Initiative 594 and vote “no” on Initiative 591.
Trese Todd has been active in domestic violence prevent and victim support for more than 10 years, volunteered with the Seattle Police Department’s Victim Support Team and the New Beginnings Confidential Shelter, and helped found the Thrivers Action Group. She also currently serves on the Attorney General’s Domestic Violence Advisory Group.