The XX Factor

“Ruthless” Gabby Giffords Gets Results

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords wants stalkers to be on the list of people who cannot buy guns.  

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

As I noted yesterday, Politico has been scolding former congresswoman Gabby Giffords for her political action committee’s pro-gun control ads, which show the human cost to our nation’s lax gun laws. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt called Giffords a “ruthless attack dog” for a totally legitimate ad featuring a mother talking about her murdered daughter, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend who had been threatening her. The ad was aimed at the Republican congressional candidate from Arizona, Martha McSally, and today McSally publicly came out in support of laws banning stalkers from buying guns. Giffords’ PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, said it will stop running the ad about stalking in response. 

McSally’s campaign spokesman told the Huffington Post, “On the issue of stalking, as a victim of stalking herself, Martha firmly believes convicted stalkers should be prohibited from obtaining firearms in all cases, and claims to the contrary are 100 percent false.”

Currently, federal law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence from buying a gun, but still allows people convicted of misdemeanor stalking to buy one. That’s a major loophole. As Think Progress reported in 2013, “Over 90 percent of female homicide victims are killed by someone they know, and 76 percent of these victims were stalked before their deaths.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced a bill, which Giffords has campaigned for, that would add convicted stalkers to the list of people that would be barred from buying a gun. 

If McSally wanted to vote for such a bill, however, she would be going up against the NRA to do so. As Laura Bassett at the Huffington Post reported in June, the NRA sent a letter to lawmakers demanding a no vote on Klobuchar’s bill, which, in addition to stalkers, would ban those convicted of abusing dating partners from buying guns. (Current federal law only bars you if you abuse someone you’re married to or live with.) Why doesn’t the NRA want stalkers to be banned from buying guns? “‘Stalking’ offenses do not necessarily include violent or even threatening behavior,” the letter reads. “Under federal law, for example, stalking includes ‘a course of conduct’ that never involves any personal contact whatsoever, occurs wholly through the mail, online media, or telephone service, is undertaken with the intent to ‘harass’ and would be reasonably expected to cause (even if it doesn’t succeed in causing) ‘substantial emotional distress’ to another person.”

If Klobuchar’s bill were somehow able to pass, there’s still a huge loophole that allows stalkers to buy all the guns they want: the gun show loophole, which allows private gun sales between individuals with no background check. As the Center for American Progress reports, an estimated 40 percent of all guns in this country are “sold by private sellers at gun shows, over the Internet, through classified ads, or through other methods” besides licensed gun stores. 

Unfortunately, McSally’s campaign has still not come out in favor of closing the gun show loophole. “Martha supports the full enforcement of federal laws that are in place to keep guns out of the hands of prohibited persons,” explained her spokesman. That’s great, but the bigger problem is that 40 percent of gun sales aren’t covered by the federal law, no matter how fully enforced it is.

More than two million gun sales have been blocked in licensed gun stores since 1998, according to the Center for American Progress, and 14 percent of those blocked sales were due to domestic violence flags on the background check. But those people can just turn around and go to a gun show or an online seller and buy all the guns they want. Adding stalkers to the list of people banned from buying guns is a good first step, but much more needs to be done if we want to keep women from dying at the hands of men with violent obsessions.