Antonio Ray Harvey| California Black Media l November 13, 2023
Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office released data that established which demonstrated a connection between domestic violence and gun violence, and highlighted the risks women face in abusive relationships.
The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), reports that women being abused by male partners who own guns are five times more likely to be murdered by their abusive partners. From 2013 to 2022, women accounted for 83% of victims killed in domestic violence-related gun homicides by a current or former intimate partner.
“The data is clear. People who commit domestic violence and abuse, they simply should not have firearms,” Bonta said during a news conference on Nov. 6, at the office of WEAVE in Sacramento’s Midtown. WEAVE is the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County.
The California Department of Justice “Domestic Violence Involving Firearms in California” report explores the effect of firearm-related domestic violence incidents involving firearms throughout California. It covers the state’s long-term progress in reducing domestic violence involving firearms, the significant increases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the large differences among counties across the state, and the impacts on different populations based on victims’ reported sex, age, and race or ethnicity.
The report broadly defines “domestic violence” to include both family-related and intimate partner-related violence, which may occur in
“public as well as private spaces.” The data indicates that the state’s efforts have helped significantly reduce the incidence of domestic violence, especially incidents involving firearms.
California’s population grew from 31,274,928 in 1993 to 39,437,610 in 2019, a 26% increase. Correspondingly, on a per capita basis, from 1993 to 2019, California law enforcement agencies reported a 53% reduction in domestic violence-related homicides and a 61% reduction in domestic violence-related gun homicides.
Researchers estimate that about 4.5 million women alive today have been threatened by an inmate partner with a gun and that nearly one million have been shot, shot at, or had a gun used against them by an inmate partner.
The report highlights that there are significant differences across California communities in rates of reported domestic violence involving firearms. Los Angeles County, for example, recorded 184,956 domestic violence calls between 2018 and 2022, with 2,908 calls involving firearms.
In addition, the counties of Alameda reported 27,482 calls (265 involving firearms), San Francisco had 16,509 (105), Sacramento reported 24,752 (247), Riverside 34,464 (212), and San Diego listed 88,497 calls (523 involving firearms) during the four-year span.
“Violence is not an accident. It is also not inevitable, and it can be prevented. Removing dangerous weapons from people who pose a danger to others is key to that goal,” Bonta stated. “This report gives an in-depth look at the ties between domestic violence and firearms, shining a light on the problem at hand, and illuminating the path to safety before us.”
Recognizing the dangerous connection between domestic violence and gun violence, California has adopted and invested in policies that enhance safety for survivors and the community, the report states.
Bonta launched the Department of Justice’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention (OGVP) in 2022 with the mission of supporting data-driven and impact-driven efforts to prevent gun violence and related traumas.
From 2013 to 2022, California law enforcement agencies reported 1,254-gun homicides where the suspected offenders were identified as a current or former intimate partner or family member of the victim, based on the OGVP’s analysis of victims’ race and ethnicity.
A majority (38%) of these domestic violence gun homicide victims in California were identified as non-Hispanic White, followed closely by Hispanic victims (33%). However, Black victims (13%) were disproportionately represented among adult female, male, and minor victims of domestic violence gun homicides. The Black population of California accounts for about 5.7% of the state’s population of nearly 40 million people.
“Survivors deserve to begin their pathway to healing with laws that promote their safety. We refuse to leave domestic violence survivors and communities behind — especially Black and Native women who disproportionately feel the impacts of gun violence,” stated Rocci Jackson, Gun Violence Restraining Order Community Analyst at the CPEDV.
Bonta held the news conference one day before the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the U.S. v. Rahimi, a case involving a Second Amendment challenge to a federal law disarming individuals subject to certain Domestic Violence Restraining Orders (DVROs).
The report highlights California’s efforts to empower and protect survivors by providing a range of support services, offering crisis intervention and safety planning options, providing DVROs, and enforcing laws to protect against gun violence.
Bonta urges the SCOTUS to reverse a decision that would endanger domestic violence victims and allow firearms to remain in the hands of their abusers. The Fifth Circuit vacated the criminal conviction of a defendant who had possessed a firearm while subject to a DVRO, which a state court in Texas issued against him after finding he had assaulted his ex-girlfriend.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Rahimi would, Bonta expressed, invalidate a federal law that prohibits adjudicated domestic abusers subject to DVROs from possessing firearms.
On August 22, 2023, Bonta joined a coalition of 25 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in the case, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Fifth Court’s decision and reaffirming California’s commitment to preventing gun violence through protective orders such as DVROs.
“No one should ever fear becoming a victim of gun violence, let alone at the hands of an abusive partner or loved one.,” Bonta stated. “Violent perpetrators like Zackey Rahimi have demonstrated their risk to public
safety and have no business possessing a firearm. Removing dangerous weapons from people who pose a danger to others is key to protecting both survivors and the broader community.”
Report: States Must Ban Guns at Places Where People Vote
Sunita Sohrabji, EMS | Special to California Black Media Partners
September 25, 2023
Voting and elections have become the targets of threats and intimidation as the nation faces a proliferation of guns, more frequent gun violence, and fewer legal protections, noted Brennan Center for Justice and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in a report released this week.
The proliferation of guns in American homes has increased dramatically since 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the 2nd Amendment allows US residents to possess an operable handgun in the home for self-defense.
“This was a considerable change from what the court had long held, which was that possessing a firearm had to be related to militia service,” Robyn Sanders, Counsel for the Voting Rights and Election Reform Democracy Project at the Brennan Center, told Ethnic Media Services.
The Supreme Court did caution that the rights secured by the Second Amendment are not unlimited; it identified laws that would forbid firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings. “And so there, while the Supreme Court handed down what was a dramatic decision at that time, it did specify that regulations are still permissible in places that are sensitive,” said Sanders, who co-authored the report.
But the Supreme Court further weakened gun restrictions last year in its ruling on the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. vs. Bruen case. The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, stated that the American public has the right to carry guns in public for self-defense, and that states cannot require applicants to demonstrate a need for owning a gun.
“The decision in Bruen has invited more legal challenges to gun regulations. But the court also explicitly states that sensitive places are places where states can regulate where guns can be carried, and they were unequivocal about polling locations being one of those,” said Sanders.
In a Sept. 20 interview with EMS, Sanders discussed the threat gun violence poses for US elections. “We believe this report served a significant purpose in alerting states that there are ways that they could help to maintain the confidence that voters historically had in our elections as being safe and secure from violence and intimidation,” she said.
Excerpts of Conversation with Sanders:
What types of justifications are states using to allow concealed guns at polling sites and drop-off boxes?
The Supreme Court was unequivocal in its decision in Bruen that prohibiting firearms in polling places is constitutional. And so, while I can’t speak for why states have not filled the voids that we recognize in our report, what I can say is that we are offering policy proposals for states to enact laws that would better protect voters and election officials and workers from threats and help voters and the public remain confident that our elections will continue to be by and large peaceful.
Older adults traditionally account for the majority of election workers. Have you seen a drop-off of older adults choosing to work at the polls, given the uncertainty of protection from violence at those sites?
We were experiencing a global pandemic in 2020. And so there was a downturn in retired or elderly folks serving as election workers due to the vulnerabilities related with COVID -19. But it is true that election officials have reported that it’s been harder to recruit the more elderly folks to serve in that capacity.
Compared to anything prior, there was dramatically more harassment and threats lodged at election officials and poll workers over the last two election cycles. Poll workers have reported experiences of harassment and threats of abuse in recent years.
Are election workers of color more likely to face harassment, violence and intimidation?
We found that election officials serving what’s known as majority minority jurisdictions were more likely than election officials overall to report having been threatened, having been harassed or abused because of their job. And they were also considerably more likely to be concerned about being assaulted.
This is alarming, it’s concerning, and it’s unacceptable in a democracy.
One out of every 3 election workers have reported harassment or threats, according to the report.
As a result of the shifts in how our electoral process was being carried out, we started to observe trends in elected leaders and others who were
spreading disinformation and misinformation about our elections as it relates to various methods of voting, including voting by mail and the use of drop boxes as a result of the uptick in mail voting.
And so based on that climate, we started to see an increase in threats and intimidation and threats of violence being lodged at election workers and officials. And that was also tied to the election denial movement that took hold at the time as well, where various elected leaders were sowing disinformation and misinformation about our elections and raising conspiracy theories about various methods of voting and really increasing the fear among the electorate that the voting process was insecure and was not fair. So, we think that’s what inspired this increase in the climate of threats and intimidation against election officials.
Could you talk about some of your policy recommendations?
One of the key findings in our report is that only 12 states and Washington, D.C. have laws prohibiting open carry and concealed carry at polling places. And even fewer states have laws that prohibit guns where other sensitive election activity occurs drop boxes as well as places like election counting facilities.
And while it is illegal to intimidate voters in all 50 states, neither federal law nor any state law explicitly acknowledges that guns in or around places where people are engaged in voting or conducting election activity can constitute illegal intimidation.
In our report, we offer two main policy proposals. One: we recommend that states enact laws to prohibit guns at and around all sites of voting and vote counting. And we recommend that states strengthen their laws, protecting voters and election workers and officials from intimidation and violence, but explicitly addressing the void that is currently present and addressing the intimidating effect of guns.
I would reiterate to voters that — because our elections have remained by and large peaceful — the proposals that we offer in our report are simply action items that states can take to further strengthen legal protections that are already in place.
Tennessee Republicans Unmoved by Growing Calls for Gun Reform
By Peter White l August 30, 2023
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee voters want gun reform but the Republicans who control things here aren’t listening. The Special Session of the Tennessee Legislature called by Governor Bill Lee to address gun violence ended this week with little to show for it.
“I think we’ve spent a lot of money and not passed any meaningful gun safety legislation,” said Jennifer Watson, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Tennessee.
Kelly Nowers is executive director of a local group, Advocates for Women and Kids’ Equity (AWAKE). She and 60 volunteers spent a day meeting with lawmakers. “I feel exhausted and disappointed,” Nowers said.
“They just completely ignored us, they ignore the data. They already have their minds made up when we talk to them,” said Kathy Barnett. She’s local but Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a national group with chapters in every state.
Even before the session began, Republican leaders signaled they had no intention of passing any gun reform measures. On the session’s first legislative day, the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled 52 of 55 bills that are dead until at least January 2024. Lee had called for a law to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill but lawmakers didn’t enact one.
The Republican super majority played whack-a-mole with Democratic gun control measures in Senate and House committee meetings and none survived to a floor vote. The upper house passed three bills of little note and the estimated $232,000 price tag for what turned out to be a less-than-special session was a slap to the Governor’s face and hundreds of mothers who flooded the Capitol hoping to see change. They didn’t get it.
One bill would have let people with enhanced gun permits enter schools but it failed to advance after a contentious 4-hour meeting of the House Civil Justice Committee ended in a tie vote. Republicans tried to shut down debate before parents from Covenant School could testify. Parents vehemently opposed two bills that would have allowed more guns in schools. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s administration already budgeted $140 million to put an armed guard in all Tennessee public schools this year.
You can legally carry a concealed handgun in public in all 50 states. The majority of states require a person to have a permit to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public but Tennessee is not one of them. The legislature passed a permitless carry law in 2021. It is effectively a “constitutional carry” law for handguns but does not apply to shotguns or rifles.
Why Governor Lee called Special Session
Three adults and three children were shot dead at The Covenant School March 27. Covenant is a parochial elementary school located in Nashville’s upscale Green Hills neighborhood. The mass shooting galvanized thousands of people who marched to the statehouse demanding gun control but the Tennessee General Assembly ended its 2023 legislative session April 21 without taking any action. On May 8, the Governor called for a special session. His wife, Maria Lee, knows two moms whose kids go to Covenant.
It was hot and muggy in Nashville August 21 when the special session began. Senate Republicans really didn’t want to be there.
“They’re on a vengeful roll,” said Carol Buckley Frazier. She’s also with Moms Demand Action. “We’ve been around since Sandy Hook,” Frazier said. Sandy Hook is the name of the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where 28 people died in a mass shooting there in 2012.
Frazier says that her group advocates for common sense gun legislation. “Things we already know work,” she said, and noted the group is not anti-gun, just anti-assault rifles. They support background checks on people who want to buy a gun and they want loopholes in the system closed.
“There’s is a contingent in this state and other states who are into constitutional carry which means ‘any gun, anywhere, anyone, any place’ and that is their ideology. They’ve matched guns and God together as if it’s their God-given right to have a gun, so they think that means any gun,” Frazier said.
She noted that when the Second Amendment was written, automatic rifles like the AR-15 didn’t exist. “Who wouldn’t want to make sure that people cannot have a military style weapon with a high capacity magazine that can kill dozens of people in seconds as a civilian firearm? Who wouldn’t want to ban that?”
Although ten states have banned assault rifles, the Republican super majority in Tennessee doesn’t want to.
The Tennessee Three
The killings at Covenant school ignited daily protests outside the Capitol, which didn’t move the Republicans to take up gun control measures, so three Democratic Representatives tried protesting from inside the House chamber. An indignant Cameron Sexton, Speaker of the House, quickly had them removed.
Two of the renegade reps, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, were expelled. The third representative, Gloria Johnson, narrowly escaped their fate by one vote.
The incident made national headlines. President Biden invited ‘The Tennessee Three” to the White House and they played it for all it was worth. Much to the chagrin of Tennessee’s Super-Red Republicans, both Jones and Pearson were quickly reelected to their posts, while Johnson, a retired schoolteacher from Knoxville, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.
Republicans Clamp Down on Dissent
When the special session began Monday, House Republicans passed new rules penalizing disruptive lawmakers and banning signs inside the Capitol and in legislative hearing rooms.
On Tuesday, the committee rooms were filled with women holding signs. After some clapping from the public gallery, Civil Justice Subcommittee Chair Lowell Russell ordered state troopers to clear the room. Some of the ejected mothers left the hearing room in tears. One Covenant School mom, Sarah Shoop Neumann, was later allowed back in to testify.
The high-handed treatment was just how Republicans dealt with the Tennessee Three and it didn’t sit well with the ACLU, which immediately sued over the new rules, eventually getting an injunction vacating them. The next day women came back with their signs, though some of the moms had already found a workaround by putting messages on their phones that they held aloft.
Up in the Senate chamber balcony, the women didn’t yell or clap but they snapped their fingers filling the loft with a trilling like insects on a hot summer day. Whether the senators below could hear it or not, it signaled the Moms’ reaction to the proceedings. When the session ended, spectators hoisted a banner that said “No Gun Reform, No Peace” and chanted ‘You’ve Done Nothing! You’ve Done Nothing!” as they filed out of the chamber.
EMS contributor Peter White lives in Tennessee, from where he provides occasional missives chronicling life in the Red States.