By: Robert Davis
Attorney General William Barr announced the creation of a Domestic Violence Working Group to examine ways to use the powers of federal prosecution to strengthen the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ability to prosecute gun violence crimes.
This group’s work could have a major influence on whether HB 1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (VAWA), gets enough support to reach President Trump’s desk. The bill has support from the Democratic caucus and allies among powerful Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC). President Trump has also voiced support for several gun control measures, including banning bump stocks and silencers.
“Gun owners should be concerned because Nancy Pelosi’s House has passed a new version of this bill laced with gun control, and Senate Republicans are being very tight-lipped about what they plan to do about it before the deadline,” Ryan Flugaur, political director at the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), told Gunpowder Magazine in an email statement. “Instead of making it easier for women and victims of domestic assault to purchase and carry a firearm for self-defense, the bill seeks to disarm potentially millions of women and men.”
VAWA is a law that former president Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 that strengthened domestic violence sentencing, provided funding to enhance law enforcement, and “provided a foundation for a successful long term criminal justice effort to end violence against women,” according to a DOJ press release from September 1999.
The Domestic Violence Working Group will consider ways to bypass criminal convictions and bar firearm possession by those who are currently or were retroactively “subject to certain domestic violence protective orders.”
“In other words, no conviction necessary,” Flugaur said. “Just an accusation from an angry ex, which may or may not be true.”
Flugaur also expects this working group to research ways to strengthen and enforce the Lautenberg law, a bill passed in 1996 that federally outlawed firearm possession for those convicted of gun violence. In turn, Lautenberg carries large implications for HB 1585 because it federally outlawed firearm possession for those convicted of domestic violence.
“Specifically, HR 1585 expands Lautenberg by stripping gun rights for life from alleged stalkers and ex-dating partners,” Flugaur said. “This gun ban would retroactively strip gun rights from millions of Americans all over decades-old, non-violent disputes from past dating partners.”
DOJ’s support for such a law should come as no surprise. Gun rights advocates have been sounding the alarm on Barr since before he was confirmed as AG. Barr has made no secret about his tough stance on gun violence, but takes a wide-netted approach to solving the problem.
During his confirmation hearing, Barr told Sen. Jon Cornyn (TX) that there is room for reasonable regulation in the Second Amendment, even though he agrees it creates a personal right.
“What I look for is what’s the burden on law abiding people and is it proportionate to whatever betterment in terms of safety or betterment could be conferred,” Barr said. “Let’s get down to the real problem we’re confronting which is keeping these weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. Everything else is really rhetoric until we get those problems solved.”
Under Barr’s leadership, the DOJ has made prosecuting gun crimes a primary target. Barr asked the House Appropriations Committee in April to give DOJ $138 million to fight violent crime. A majority of those funds would go toward reducing gun violence by targeting transnational crime organizations.
But Barr isn’t only concerned with criminals. Even law-abiding gun owners can be swept up in his net.
“The accused would, in all likelihood, not even know they’ve been added to the federal ‘no guns’ list and would face 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine for trying to buy a gun,” Flugaur said. “Worse, this could easily be a vehicle bill for a national version of Red Flag Gun Confiscation, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has thus far refused to offer gun owners reassurances that he’ll block any of these anti-gun efforts.”
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414 (at) gmail.com.