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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Make it harder for stalkers to get guns

In 1970, I turned 13 years old. That was also the year when, after several years of abuse, I was shot in the back by my stepfather with a .306 rifle. Protective orders didn’t exist then – but by most standards, my stepfather should not have been allowed to have a gun: Two years earlier he had shot a man. Even after that incident, he still kept guns in our house – and he pointed one of those guns at me.

I was lucky to be alive and released from the hospital in a number of weeks. My stepfather was found guilty of aggravated assault and served nine months of jail time for shooting me – and my mother stayed with him. I lived in foster care until I was old enough to go out on my own. In the ’70s, there were few support systems for people in my situation. ...

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In 1970, I turned 13 years old. That was also the year when, after several years of abuse, I was shot in the back by my stepfather with a .306 rifle. Protective orders didn’t exist then – but by most standards, my stepfather should not have been allowed to have a gun: Two years earlier he had shot a man. Even after that incident, he still kept guns in our house – and he pointed one of those guns at me.

I was lucky to be alive and released from the hospital in a number of weeks. My stepfather was found guilty of aggravated assault and served nine months of jail time for shooting me – and my mother stayed with him. I lived in foster care until I was old enough to go out on my own. In the ’70s, there were few support systems for people in my situation.

A little over a year ago, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA provides support for domestic violence victims, and just as importantly, has brought domestic violence to the forefront of the national conversation, reminding us that there’s much more work ahead.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte listened to domestic violence advocates when she voted for VAWA. Unfortunately, a month after that important vote, she voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check bill that could have kept guns out of the hands of serial batterers, sex offenders and domestic abusers.

My own experience led me to work with other women to start and run a domestic violence and rape crisis center in New York. I’ve seen women start anew after years of pain and abuse – and I also know firsthand, sadly, that domestic violence is alive and well in our country. We can and must do more to keep women safe.

The numbers are staggering: In New Hampshire, domestic violence is a factor in 92 percent of homicides and suicides. Forty-six women are shot to death each month in America by a current or former husband or boyfriend – and three out of four female murder victims were stalked by their murderers, with almost nine in 10 attempted murders of women having been preceded by at least one stalking instance.

Now, Sen. Ayotte has the chance to be a leader on this issue by signing on as a co-sponsor of the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013, which was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Under current law, people with misdemeanor stalking convictions are still allowed to possess guns. This legislation would make our communities safer by prohibiting convicted stalkers from buying or possessing guns.

On behalf of domestic violence survivors across New Hampshire, I urge Sen. Ayotte to stand with us by cosponsoring this legislation. Passing VAWA was crucial – and this is an important next step to help save women’s lives.

Clai Lasher-Sommers lives in Cheshire County.