Last week, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) introduced a new piece of legislation that would prohibit stalkers from purchasing guns in the United States. According to Rep. Hahn, the purpose of the Protecting Victims of Stalking Act is to close a loophole in the existing laws against stalking.
The current law prohibits individuals from owning or purchasing a gun if they have ever stalked an intimate partner. The law does not apply to individuals who have stalked strangers, acquaintances, co-workers, etc.
While it is true that the majority of victims know their offender, not all victims have had prior intimate relationships with their stalkers. Often times, the stalker is an old friend, a casual acquaintance, a mentally ill co-worker, or in the case of prominent Hollywood stars such as John Lennon and Catherine Zeta-Jones — a deranged or delusional fan.
According to a 2010 study by the Center for Disease Control, roughly one in six American women are stalked in their lifetimes. Of these victims, 13.2% have reported being stalked by a stranger.
Rep. Hahn's proposed legislation will broaden the definition of stalking to protect all victims, regardless of their relationship with the stalker. The law will ban the purchase of firearms from anyone who has an official court restraining order filed against them as a result of harassing or stalking another person.
The proposed legislation is similar to a law that was passed in the state of Washington just a few weeks ago. The Jennifer Paulson Stalking Protection Order Act was signed into law on April 27, and is the product of Ken Paulson's three-year fight to protect victims of stalking after his own daughter was stalked by stranger who ultimately shot and killed her. Washington's new law strengthens protections for victims of stalking within the state, and Rep. Hahn's proposed legislation aims to do the same at the federal level.
In an official statement, Rep. Hahn stated that "Victims of stalking deserve peace of mind, whether or not they ever had a relationship with their stalker."
While the Rep. Hahn's bill undoubtedly addresses an important issue and has the potential to save lives, it is unlikely that the bill will make it to President Obama's desk anytime soon. If the U.S. Senate could not muster enough votes to pass the Manchin-Toomey bill expanding background checks on gun purchases, a proposal that was favored by almost 90% of the public, then it is almost unfathomable that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will allow this bill to pass.
For argument's sake, however, let's say the bill is passed and it becomes federal law. Without passage of the Manchin-Toomey bill, not all gun sales require a background check and thus, it would be easy for a known stalker to circumvent the Protecting Victims of Stalking Act and simply obtain a firearm from a gun show retailer who does not conduct background investigations.
The bill proposed by Rep. Hahn is an important piece of legislation that aims to protect the victims of stalking and gun violence by closing loopholes in the current laws against stalking. However, in order for the bill to be effective, it is imperative that we first close the gaping loopholes in our background check system to ensure that all gun purchases are predicated on the successful completion of a background check.
We can pass expansive laws prohibiting all types of stalkers, abusers, felons, and terrorists from purchasing guns — but none of those laws are effective unless every single gun sale is contingent on a background check.