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Domestic violence: The next front in gun-control fight

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Advocates are pushing for gun control legislation through the issue of domestic violence
  • Everytown for Gun Safety's new ad ties together guns and domestic abuse
  • "Women's lives are at stake," Gabrielle Giffords writes in an opinion piece
  • Senate committee holds first hearing on the issue

Washington (CNN) -- The scene is intense: A man is ferociously knocking on a door while a woman inside the house calls 911, saying that her ex is trying to break in. A child sits on the couch.

The man bursts in and grabs the child, and the woman yells not to take the toddler. The man pulls out a gun. A shot rings out, and the screen goes black. A child cries out.

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The violent domestic scenario is only a television ad from a gun control group, but it attempts to portray what some women face. It also depicts the next front in the gun control debate.

The ad, by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group Everytown for Gun Safety, is airing in the District of Columbia and three states. It targets three Republican senators: Dean Heller of Nevada, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, lawmakers who have shown a willingness to back some sort of gun control or whose communities have faced a tragic mass shooting.

The focus on women and domestic violence comes after gun-control advocates gained little traction on efforts to tighten restrictions on gun ownership.

Public opinion on the issue is divided. A CNN poll from December found that 50% of people are opposed to tighter gun-control laws, but 49% support them.

After the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 elementary school students and six staff members were killed, public opinion tipped to the side of gun control.

But under pressure from the National Rifle Association, Congress did not pass reforms that would have strengthened background checks for gun purchases.

The new advertisement was released Tuesday and is part of a campaign to link the potentially deadly combination of guns and domestic abuse.

The NRA, which opposes most efforts to restrict gun ownership, did not respond to a request for comment on the new campaign.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the issue Wednesday and heard from Elvin Daniel, an NRA member and gun owner whose sister was killed by a domestic abuser.

"It has been nearly two years since Zina was murdered and it is heartbreaking to know that our weak gun laws continue to allow dangerous abusers to buy guns without background checks," he said, choking back tears.

Gabrielle Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head during a mass shooting, did not speak at the hearing, but she wrote an opinion piece on the issue for CNN.

"We urgently need stronger gun laws that protect women," she wrote. "We can't wait any longer. Women's lives are at stake."

Giffords also announced the Protect all Women Leadership Network, which brings together leading women working in both policy and advocacy to push for reforms at the state and federal level to protect women from gun-toting abusers.

Kids and gun safety

Advocates point to statistics that show that 46 women are shot and killed by a current or former domestic partner each month and that more than half of women murdered are killed by their current or former partners.

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Giffords wrote that more women were shot to death by an intimate partner between 2001 and 2012 than the number of soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Advocates also point to a recent incident in Texas in which police accused a man with a history of domestic violence of shooting and killing many of his estranged wife's family members during a violent rampage.

"This is an area where we can really make progress and keep guns out of dangerous hands," said Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety.

They have gotten behind a bill by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota that would expand gun restrictions for abusive dating partners.

It currently applies only to married partners. The proposal would restrict guns from people who have been issued restraining orders.

George Mason University law professor Joyce Lee Malcolm told the hearing that "taking these guns without due process violates that fundamental right."

In a statement, Ayotte pointed to her co-sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in the Senate last year, but did not indicate whether she'd back Klobuchar's bill.

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Sean Kennedy contributed to this report.

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