House Passes Bill Protecting Domestic Abuse Victims; GOP Split Over Gun Restrictions
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
All right. The House votes today to renew a 1994 law that is called the Violence Against Women Act. There is some opposition to this bill, which protects victims of domestic and sexual violence. The NRA - National Rifle Association - is pressuring Republicans to vote no. That's because the bill includes new provisions to ban anyone convicted of domestic abuse from ever owning a gun. Here's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: House Republicans will cast a vote today in which they have to choose between siding against the NRA or against a bill to help abused women. For one Republican, Brian Fitzpatrick, it's a no-brainer.
BRIAN FITZPATRICK: I think we need to speak to everybody, including women, and talk about the issues they care about and take reasonable, pragmatic positions. And this is one of them.
DAVIS: The Pennsylvania congressman is the only Republican co-sponsor of legislation to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. He's one of the few Republicans in a swing district who survived the woman-fueled Democratic wave in last year's midterms. And now he's trying to make the case that it's possible to support gun rights and gun restrictions.
FITZPATRICK: I tell my colleagues all the time I think the biggest threat to the Second Amendment is when you allow all these gun crimes to occur unaddressed because that erodes people's confidence and trust in people that are legitimately trying to protect themselves and their families and their homes.
DAVIS: The NRA and congressional Republicans all support VAWA, as the law is known. Democrats want to update it to restrict abusers' gun rights. The new version would expand existing laws that ban firearms ownership to anyone convicted of misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse or stalking. Right now the law applies to felony convictions. It would also close the so-called boyfriend loophole to expand the gun ban to include convicted dating partners.
The NRA opposes both because they say it's too low of a threshold to permanently deny someone their Second Amendment rights. So they put Congress on notice that they will use how members vote today when weighing their support in future campaigns. And that annoys Republicans like Idaho's Mike Simpson.
MIKE SIMPSON: I don't know why they're key-voting it. They shouldn't.
DAVIS: Simpson doesn't support the gun provisions, but he will vote for the bill against the NRA's position. He's confident they can get rid of them in negotiations with the Senate. NRA opposition usually gives Republicans political cover to vote against gun bills. But a "no" vote on something as popular as the Violence Against Women Act is just politically untenable for Republicans like New York's Tom Reed.
TOM REED: We're going to have to take these political votes, and I will be voting yes tomorrow. And I'll also be voting yes when it comes back from the Senate, when this gun issue is stripped out of it.
DAVIS: House Democrats have the votes to pass this bill, and they say they will block any effort to alter the gun provisions. Here's Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.
DEBBIE DINGELL: Sometimes things are as simple as this. If we are doing a Violence Against Women Act and we are trying to save lives, why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted - convicted - not accused, convicted - of domestic violence or stalking, that they not have access to a gun?
DAVIS: How many Republicans break with the NRA is an indicator of how strong of a playing hand Democrats will have in talks with the Senate. Fitzpatrick is working his side of the aisle to increase that leverage.
FITZPATRICK: I'm feeling optimistic that I've convinced several of them to vote yes, but I guess we'll find out Thursday.
DAVIS: And the NRA is keeping score. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.
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