November 20, 2023

Wyden, Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors from Gun Violence

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Senate colleagues today announced they introduced legislation that would prevent domestic violence abusers from buying firearms.

"The profound grief suffered by Nicolette's family is a tragedy no family should ever have to endure,” Wyden said. “Firearms must remain inaccessible to domestic violence abusers— lives should not be lost due to inexcusable loopholes these criminals take advantage of. Congress must help break the cycle of gun violence and act to avert future tragedies by passing the Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act.”

“Domestic abuse survivors have incredible strength and deserve peace of mind to know they will be protected when they escape abusive situations,” said Senator Merkley. “Ensuring abusers and violent offenders are barred from accessing firearms is the least we can do to protect the safety of both domestic abuse survivors and our broader communities.”

Federal law protects domestic violence survivors from gun violence by preventing their abusers from buying or having a firearm – but only once the court has issued a final restraining order. This leaves survivors unprotected exactly when they are in the most danger: when a domestic abuser first learns his or her victim has left and only an emergency restraining order is in place. Further, the definition of “intimate partner” used to prohibit respondents to restraining orders from buying or having a firearm includes spouses, former spouses, people with a child in common, and cohabitants. However, there are many survivors of dating violence who were never married, do not live with their abuser, and have no children.

The Lori Jackson – Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act would restrict those under emergency restraining orders from buying or having a firearm, and would extend protections to domestic violence survivors who have been abused by their dating partners.

The bill is named for two women who were both shot and killed by their abusive, estranged partners even after securing emergency restraining orders: Nicolette Elias from Portland, Oregon; and Lori Jackson from Oxford, Connecticut.

Nicolette Elias was a 46-year-old Portland mother of two young daughters who for years sought and secured restraining orders and temporary stalking orders against her estranged and abusive ex-husband. Despite all her attempts to protect herself and her daughters from a man who frequently threatened them and had access to firearms, in 2014, Nicolette was murdered by her former spouse in front of their children with a handgun that he refused to relinquish. He then forced their daughters out of the home, past their mother’s body, and kidnapped them, taking them to his own home. There, later that day, he took his own life, shooting himself in the chest in front of the police.

Lori Jackson was a 32-year-old mother of two who fled her home with her two children and filed for a restraining order to protect her family from her estranged husband. She moved in with her mother in Oxford, Connecticut, and the court granted her a temporary protective order while she waited for a hearing to obtain a permanent restraining order. The day before the hearing was scheduled, Lori's husband shot and killed her and injured her mother Merry Jackson using a gun he legally possessed because a permanent protective order was not yet in place.

The Lori Jackson – Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act would expand on a provision in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that denies firearm sales to dating partners with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions – and not just abusers who had been married to, lived with, or had children with their victim.

The bill would also establish a new grant program to help state and local governments implement policies that keep firearms out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators while they are subject to a temporary or emergency restraining order. These policies include: requiring a domestic violence abuser to surrender or sell any firearm or ammunition in their possession; revoking their permit or license to purchase, possess or carry a firearm or ammunition while the restraining order is in effect; and requiring that a background check to be performed before any firearm or ammunition is returned to the person subject to the restraining order.

Alongside Wyden, the legislation was led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and U.S. Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn.

Alongside Merkley, the bill was cosponsored by U.S. Senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Patty Murray, D-Wis., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., John Fetterman, D-Pa., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Chris Coons, D-Del., Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

The legislation is endorsed by Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady, Giffords, March for Our Lives, Sandy Hook Promise, Newtown Action Alliance, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and Jewish Women International.

The text of the bill is here.