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Rice calls for tougher gun law for domestic abusers

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) with Linda Beigel

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) with Linda Beigel Schulman, right, of Dix Hills, whose son Scott Beigel was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., and Sister Aimee Koonmen, left, executive director of Bethany House, at a news conference Monday at Bethany House in Baldwin, which helps homeless and abused women. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Domestic violence abusers would have a harder time buying a gun under a bipartisan bill introduced Monday by Rep. Kathleen Rice.

The Domestic Violence Reporting Act, co-sponsored by the Garden City Democrat and Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, would give federal dollars to states for updating the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to include domestic violence convictions and restraining orders. The NICS system is used to verify if an individual is legally allowed to buy a gun. 

Federal law already prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence from obtaining a weapon while those who are subject to orders of protection could also potentially fail a background check.

And while New York has a law requiring state officials to flag domestic violence records in the NICS system, many other states do not, creating a loophole that can allow domestic abusers to purchase dangerous weapons, Rice said. 

"This is common sense. It's long overdue and it's going to save lives," said Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney, at a news conference Monday in Baldwin at Bethany House, which helps homeless and abused women in need. 

Appearing with Rice was Linda Beigel Schulman, who lost her son, Scott Beigel, a geography teacher, in a mass shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Schulman, of Dix Hills, said domestic abusers shouldn't be allowed to obtain weapons that they can use on their victims.

"This practical bipartisan legislation will save lives," Schulman said. "This is the sole purpose of reasonable gun safety legislation — to save lives and protect people. When enacted, this legislation will help stop senseless and preventable gun violence by filling one loophole in the NICS program."

The law would not affect individuals who already legally own firearms. Law enforcement officials typically seize the guns of individuals charged with domestic violence, even if that individual legally purchased the weapon, Rice said.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Turner, the bill's lead GOP sponsor, said Congress must take more proactive steps to prevent incidents of mass gun violence.

In August, Connor Betts allegedly shot and killed nine people and injured 27 others in Turner's hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Betts passed a background check and legally purchased the gun, officials said.

Law enforcement officials said Betts did not have a criminal record but news reports said he was suspended from his high school for making a list of female students he wanted to rape and kill.

“We continue to hear the same story after each mass shooting: there were warning signs that the shooter should not have had access to a firearm," Turner said in a statement. 

The legislation would make grant money available to states to improve their reporting of criminal history, mental health and protection order records to the NICS database.

The bill would also remove a legal barrier that currently prevents some states from qualifying for these grants because they have yet to implement a program  giving individuals who are subject to the mental health disqualifiers  a way to regain their gun eligibility. 

Victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if their partner owns a gun, said Colleen Merlo, executive director of Long Island Against Domestic Violence. 

"For women, men and children living through domestic violence," Merlo said, "a gun in the hands of the abuser poses a serious and lethal threat."

More than half of all mass shootings in which four or more people were killed between 2009 and 2017 involved incidents of domestic or family violence, according to an April 2017 report by Everytown for Gun Safety, the country’s largest gun violence prevention organization.

In 42% of the 156 mass shootings tracked by the group, the shooter exhibited warning signs that they posed a danger to themselves or others and about a third involved an individual who was legally prohibited from possessing firearms, the report found.

"This is not an assault on the Second Amendment," Rice said. "This is us taking steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. Not everyone should have a gun. If you have violent tendencies you should not be able to get a gun."

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