WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need to pass gun violence prevention legislation. Noting that many states, including Minnesota, have taken action to prevent abusive dating partners from purchasing a gun, Klobuchar highlighted that her bill to close the “boyfriend loophole” at the federal level recently passed the House with bipartisan support as a part of the legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. She also discussed the tragic shooting that occurred at the Allina Health Clinic in Buffalo, MN, last month, and asked about how Extreme Risk Protection Order laws can help prevent mass shootings.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you very much, and thank you Mr. Chairman for this hearing, this moving testimony. I was here for your initial comments in the room, and I want to thank all of you for the work that you’re doing, especially those that have been personally affected by gun violence. So for years I’ve been working to pass the Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, which would close a dangerous loophole. And actually when Senator Grassley chaired this committee we had a hearing, and the Republican witnesses agreed with the piece about closing the boyfriend loophole, which, of course, abusive dating partners now can buy a gun, whereas people who are married cannot. And we’re just simply trying to close that loophole which has been closed in many states but not all states. What’s really interesting is that this provision actually has passed the House now with 29 Republican votes because it’s part of the Violence Against Women Act. And I am--we are working so hard on background checks and some of the other things we need to do, but this provision is actually in that along with an important provision that’s contained in the bill on stalking. And I remember when we had that hearing and the Republican witnesses agreed with this idea. The very conservative sheriff from Wisconsin actually said this, he said: “Dangerous boyfriends can be just as scary as dangerous husbands. They hit just as hard, and they fire their guns with the same deadly force.” I ask you, Ms. Thomas, about this. I know you know this bill well. Many states have taken actions to close this loophole in state law, including mine. How have the rates of gun violence changed in those states, and how would changing federal law to include dating partners help?
Ms. Thomas: So I first just want to acknowledge that more than half of intimate partner homicides occur by a dating--former or current--dating partner, so this is a really important group that we include within the definition of those prohibited from having firearms. We have seen a marked reduction in gun violence in states that have this law and certainly we would expect the same if we expanded the characterization within the current law to include not just the domestic violence misdemeanors that are currently in there, but also to include dating partners and those that are convicted of stalking. In addition to dating partners, more than 70 percent of homicide victims in intimate partner homicides are previously the victims of stalking, so these are two ways that we could very easily expand those definitions, cover more individuals, protect individuals in domestic violence situations, and reduce harm. And both of those are in the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you, and one other question, and I know this has been discussed a little bit: The Extreme Risk Protection Orders. I remember being at a meeting with the former President Trump after the Parkland shooting, and actually Vice President Pence supported this, doing something with these Extreme Risk Protection Orders in federal law. And sadly we've had now a horrible crime in Minnesota, in February, a terrible shooting at the Allina Health Clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, where a young medical assistant was killed and four others were injured. It had been reported that the police were aware that the shooter had actually previously made threats against this clinic, it was a general health clinic, and so doing something now in our state is supported by the governor, the chiefs of police, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. Can you talk, Ms. Thomas, about how an Extreme Risk Protection Order can help to prevent shootings like the one that we just had tragically in Minnesota?
Ms. Thomas: Absolutely. I want to address some comments made earlier about Extreme Risk Protection Orders. There is a lot of discussion around due process when we talk about Extreme Risk Protection Orders and that's because it is a situation where you can have ex parte, temporary removal. These laws are modeled on domestic violence hearings, domestic violence ex parte hearings, which have withstood decades of challenge and ensure they comply with due process and that's how these laws are modeled. So they ensure that we cover due process, that we protect those individuals' rights, and have a system in place where there is a full and fair hearing very quickly after the initial removal. Extreme Risk Protective Orders are now in place in 19 states and the District of Columbia. They are working in a really impactful way to reduce the incidence of mass shootings. As I mentioned earlier, 21 incidents that we've just recently has been reviewed by peer reviewed research where mass shootings where been prevented by Risk Protective Orders and we know for sure that it’s reduced suicide in states like Connecticut from research that’s come out. So, as has been mentioned by other witnesses, this is a really smart, effective way to remove guns when people are in a time of crisis and to ensure that due process rights are protected, and to ensure the safety of communities. There was a question earlier about who gets to decide about these rights and it is always a judicial officer, testimony is always under oath. There was comments made about who gets to testify. These are comments under oath utilizing our fair justice system. We believe systems are put in place in a way that protects all the parties involved and enhances public safety.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you so much. We should note, as I brought up those previous meetings, these provisions are in place in a number of what would be considered red states as well, and have been supported by many Republicans in the past. So thank you very much, and I appreciate, again, all the witnesses. Thank you.
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