Las Vegas Sun

October 2, 2014

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Advocate: It’s time to expand gun restrictions in domestic violence cases

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Sue Meuschke is the executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, which coordinates the efforts of 15 domestic violence organizations that serve all 17 Nevada counties.

Nevada, which has routinely suffered the highest annual domestic violence fatality rate in the nation during recent years, is part of a new campaign by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown to strengthen gun laws.

Everytown is airing ads in Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., and is leading a trip to the nation's capital this week by a delegation of domestic violence victims and their advocates, including representatives from the Silver State, to lobby for a new Senate proposal.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has introduced the Protecting Domestic and Stalking Victims Act, which would bar convicted stalkers and abusive dating partners from legally buying and possessing guns. Currently, only abusive spouses are barred from gun ownership.

Nevada's domestic homicide rate was the highest in the U.S. five times between 2005 and 2011, the last full year for which domestic violence fatality statistics are available. With 35 homicides of women by men in 2010 — most involving a handgun — Nevada was the deadliest state in the nation that year for domestic violence. The state fell to No. 16 in 2011, with 20 homicides recorded that year.

Help is available

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are organizations in Southern Nevada that can help.

SHELTERS

Safe Nest Hotline: 702-646-4981

Safe House Hotline: 702-451-4203

LEGAL ADVICE

Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada: 702-386-1070

OTHER RESOURCES

Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence: 775-828-1115

Sue Meuschke has watched the numbers closely as the executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, which collects state data on domestic violence and coordinates the efforts of 15 domestic violence organizations that serve all 17 Nevada counties. She's part of the delegation in D.C. to lobby legislators and attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic violence and gun violence, the first of its kind, scheduled for today. The Sun caught up with Meuschke in between her meetings with legislators in D.C.

You have been the executive director at Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence for 25 years. How have the challenges you face changed?

The larger challenges still remain. Women, men and children are still being abused in settings where they should be safe and shouldn’t have to worry.

There has been a change in how society perceives the issue, however. In 1989, when I first started, most people would be surprised to think domestic violence was happening in their community. You would hear things like: "If she doesn’t like it, why not just leave?" or "It doesn’t happen in my community; it only happens to their people.” So, we’ve come a ways in terms of that attitude, and people do understand domestic violence is an issue in every community.

Why do we need a new law pertaining to gun violence and domestic violence?

One of the issues we’re looking at in D.C. this week is understanding that some laws were passed several years ago but society has moved on. So, in 1996 when they (amended the 1994 Violence Against Women Act) which addressed who needs a background check and who can possess a weapon, dating relationships were not on the radar. Now we know that a number of folks in dating relationships are victims of domestic violence and gun violence. The Internet was not big last time, and now people have easy access to guns on the Internet. There are gaping loopholes in our laws, and we’re trying to figure out how we protect people by keeping guns out of the hands of people likely to use them for bad outcomes.

So what will the Protecting Domestic and Stalking Victims Act do?

Right now, the federal code does not include stalking as a crime that would lead to firearm restrictions. Maybe in the '90s stalking wasn’t as big of an issue or wasn’t identified as an issue yet. Also dating violence is not included in the federal law, even though Nevada has had dating violence included in its code on domestic violence since 1997. So, it’s an evolution as we better understand the problem. In the old days, people thought of domestic violence as between spouses. As culture evolves, we have to take into account that there are many intimate relationships that do not involve marriage.

What’s your reaction to the Senate holding its first committee meeting on guns and domestic violence?

On one side, it's sad that it’s the first hearing in history, but on the other side, it’s great. We need to have people talking about and raising this issue, and we need to do it in the public sphere where policy is made. Even if we don’t get the policy done today or tomorrow, we can raise the discussion. We need to figure out how to work together to make good sensible policy that protects the most vulnerable while preserving the rights of most citizens — except for some folks who show through their actions they aren’t responsible enough for the rights they have.

What would you like to see done in Nevada legislatively?

There is a prohibition on anyone convicted of a felony or who is adjudicated mentally ill purchasing a firearm, but only registered dealers perform the background check. Unfortunately, people can go to gun shows and purchase from nonlicensed dealers, or go on the Internet and avoid the background check. Last session, state Sen. Justin Jones proposed legislation to close the loophole in Nevada by requiring private sellers to also go through the background check. It passed through the Legislature but was vetoed by (Gov. Brian) Sandoval. I believe a similar bill will be up next year, and we’ll support it.

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