And it's possible that laws keeping guns out of the hands of abusers are about to get looser. In a case before the Supreme Court this term, Voisine v. United States
, two convicted domestic abusers are challenging the law that forbids them from owning guns, arguing that their crimes technically don't qualify as domestic assault. If the court rules in favor of them, it would narrow the definition of domestic abuse, and undermine the laws preventing those with violent histories from getting guns.
"What’s at stake in this case is the recognition of the seriousness of domestic violence, of the dangers of guns in the context of domestic violence," said Kiersten Stewart, the director of public policy for Futures Without Violence
. The group, which fights abuse in relationships, filed a brief in the case urging the court to decide against Voisine
. Stewart told Refinery29 by phone that she worries that this case will encourage the perception of domestic violence as a minor crime.
"The argument that the petitioners are making [is] that the law calls for physical force, and so if it’s not seriously physically violent, then that shouldn’t count," she said. "A victim of domestic violence will tell you that if her abuser slashes her tires, cuts up her credit card, and threatens her family — those are all very real things that are just as terrifying, often, as physical violence."
For Vesel, even though her stalker frightened her so badly that she moved away, the law couldn't protect her.
“Women need to be aware of how these laws disproportionately affect them and their safety," O’Rourke says. She now works with the Everytown Survivor Network to share her friend’s story, in an effort to bring awareness to the dangers presented by loopholes like the one that allowed Vesel’s killer to buy a gun. "We talk about gun violence in the abstract, and it’s not an abstract issue."
“Had [Smirnov] needed to go to a federally licensed dealer, he would never have passed a background check. He never would’ve gotten a gun, and Jitka would be alive."