WASHINGTON >> The House today rebuffed a furious lobbying campaign by the National Rifle Association and approved a revamped Violence Against Women Act that would expand law enforcement’s ability to restrict gun purchases by convicted domestic abusers.
The legislation passed easily but on a divided vote on what was once a broadly bipartisan measure first passed in 1994. In recent years, partisan rancor over efforts to expand the protections of the legislation have clouded efforts to renew it, and this year, the divide came over gun control.
The provisions would close the so-called boyfriend loophole and bar those under a court restraining order or convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a domestic partner from purchasing guns. The NRA seized on the new measures and warned Congress they would track and publish how lawmakers voted, hoping to intimidate Republicans and Democrats in Republican-leaning districts.
“Do not let the NRA bully you,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., urged her colleagues ahead of the vote, noting that her recently deceased husband, former Rep. John Dingell Jr., D-Mich., was a member of the organization.
Only a few Republicans bucked the threat and voted with the Democratic majority in favor of the legislation — among them, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and the sole Republican sponsor of the reauthorization.
Democrats, even freshman members who won in districts swept by President Donald Trump in 2016, stood up to the gun lobby. Many in the new majority campaigned on tightening access to guns, and they appeared to embrace condemnation from the gun lobby as a badge of honor.
“Lawmakers should be reading the tea leaves,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that supports restricting gun laws. “In the midterm elections, it was gun safety that got people to the polls.”
Republicans had advocated for a clean one-year extension of the current law, which expired in February, arguing that new elements of the legislation were controversial and overreached — in particular, the gun restrictions and language offering additional protections to transgender people.
“Can we stop playing political games at the expense of vulnerable women?” asked Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., on the floor ahead of the vote, arguing that the bill put forward by Democrats would “collect dust in the Senate.” (Democrats, who booed vigorously during her speech, rejected her motion.)
The vote underscored the stark contrasts between the new Democratic majority, with its historic number of women, and the Republican minority, which has struggled to attract women voters and to increase the number of conservative women holding office on Capitol Hill. Democrats framed opposition to the legislation’s renewal as a denial of protections for survivors of abuse, efforts to prevent domestic violence and support for law enforcement.