Michele Bell wishes more politicians knew what she saw in her 50 years working as a nurse at a Houston hospital, where she cared for countless women who had been shot by their partners. She wishes they knew what happened to her brother, a former police officer who was shot twice while responding to domestic violence calls and had to retire.
She wishes that guns — who can have them, what laws can restrict them — weren’t a political issue.
“I’m not saying people can’t have guns, I’m just saying this issue is dear to me. … I’ve had a lifetime in one of the biggest health care systems in Texas, and I know that the lion’s share of gunshot wounds we see are related to domestic violence,” said Bell, a 70-year-old White woman. “It’s really sad to me that someone can still carry a gun after they’ve done something like that to their wife. It blows my mind.”
The vast majority of Americans across partisan lines agree with Bell, according to a new 19th News/SurveyMonkey poll. Eighty-two percent of Americans support a federal law banning those convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a gun, including 81 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats.
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Bell, a political independent for whom voter fraud is the most important issue, told The 19th that she strongly supports a ban on people with domestic violence convictions from owning guns, as well as one on those with domestic violence restraining orders. Whether states can impose such bans on people with these restraining orders is a question the Supreme Court is set to weigh in on this fall in the case of United States v. Rahimi.
Women experience domestic violence at about twice the rate of men, and the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent. Roughly half of all women killed in the United States are killed by a current or former romantic partner, in instances of domestic violence or intimate partner violence.
Women are also more likely than men to worry a lot about gun violence in their community, The 19th/SurveyMonkey poll found — but the majority of Americans regardless of gender say they worry at least a little. People of color are more worried about gun violence than White people: 54 percent of Black Americans say they worry “a lot,” compared with 47 percent of Asian Americans, 43 percent of Latinx Americans, 35 percent of Native Americans and 33 percent of White Americans.
When it comes to a potential federal ban on buying guns for those convicted of domestic violence, support is highest among White Americans: 86 percent, compared with 79 percent of Asian Americans, 77 percent of Latinx Americans, 75 percent of Black Americans and 75 percent of Native Americans.
SurveyMonkey conducted this poll online from August 24 to 31 among a national sample of 20,191 adults, with a modeled error estimate of plus or minus 1.0 percentage points.
Sherree Rogers, 46, lives in Calvert County, Maryland, outside of Baltimore, the city she grew up in. She’s a domestic violence survivor who has been incarcerated and is now a motivational speaker who leads a non-profit. She’s also a longtime gun owner.
Rogers, a Black woman, says that her past leads to “mixed feelings” about restrictions on gun ownership for those with domestic violence records. Any restrictions need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to account for the experiences of those who may have acted out of self-defense or retaliation or those who have a documented record of having changed their behavior, she said.
Rogers has never voted and identifies as an independent. She also wishes for more policies that would allow people — women especially — to turn over their guns temporarily when they are in distress. She said she thinks giving people the ability to freely turn over their firearms, with the knowledge that they would be able to just as freely get them back, could do so much to help prevent harm.
Christi Terry, 60, grew up around guns and says that the current level of gun violence in the United States is “nuts.” She worries about the toll a lifetime of active shooter drills has had on the mental health of her son, who’s now in college in Chicago. She “feels strongly” that those with domestic violence convictions should not be allowed to own guns and would like to see “red flag” laws — which let a court prevent someone who has been deemed dangerous to themselves or others from accessing firearms — adopted at the federal level.
Terry is a White woman who lives in Park City, Utah, and she’s a delegate in the state Republican Party. Within her own party, she said she routinely hears men complain that such laws would lead to false accusations and that they could lose their own guns as a result. She has explained to them countless times that the process isn’t an easy one and that an accuser has to appear before a judge and make their case. “It’s not just a woman saying, ‘I want that guy’s gun taken away.’”
Republican elected officials have generally opposed efforts at both state and national levels to implement new regulations that would restrict ownership or add safety measures.
Terry is worried about what the “really conservative Supreme Court” could rule on guns. “I believe in gun rights. I think people should be allowed to have a gun, so I stand with Republicans on that — but it’s a privilege, and not some God-given right,” she said. “Please show me where it says in the Bible that you have to own a gun.”
The case set to go before the court on November 7 centers on an incident involving Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who physically assaulted his girlfriend in a parking lot in 2019 and later told her that he would shoot her if she reported the incident. She petitioned a Texas state court to grant a domestic violence restraining order; the order was granted and included a provision barring Rahimi from possessing a firearm while it was in effect.
Rahimi later threatened a different woman with a gun and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. In a two-month period following that incident, he shot off guns in public on five separate occasions, including shooting an AR-15 assault rifle into the home of someone who had once bought drugs from him and shooting into the air at a fast food restaurant when a friend’s credit card was declined. When police searched Rahimi’s house, they found multiple firearms and rounds of ammunition, and Rahimi was charged with violating the ban on possessing firearms.
After the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen found that New York state’s law requiring a permit for carrying concealed weapons in public places was unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed its original conviction of Rahimi, saying that even with the order in place, Rahimi still was entitled to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide on whether the 5th Circuit’s reversal was correct, a ruling that will have implications for what limits can be placed on gun ownership.
Jill Gibson Bell is a 78-year-old great-grandmother of three who lives in Atlanta and is worried about gun violence — and about the Supreme Court’s decision-making. For her, a decision that did not uphold restrictions on gun ownership would be another sign, following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, that the country is trending away from democracy and toward a government that is trying to control its citizens.
Gibson Bell, who is Black, wishes politicians would do more to protect people’s freedom — both to live free of gun violence and to be able to make decisions about their own bodies.
“I’m a Democrat and I will always be a Democrat, but I’m not too tickled with none of it right now,” Gibson Bell said. “I guess we have to get out of all this the best we can — but I definitely want to see more gun restrictions.”
Grace Schell, 29, lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and said she has become more progressive as she’s gotten older, especially as she saw momentum build around anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Schell, who is Latina, considers herself a liberal and a Democrat; she’s concerned about violence against the queer community and about gun violence generally.
She’s especially worried about the risks posed to domestic violence survivors by guns. Many people never report domestic violence, she said, so she feels all the more strongly about the need for protections for those who do — including bans on gun ownership both for those with domestic violence convictions and those who have had domestic violence restraining orders.
“It just seems completely logical that you wouldn’t put a weapon in the hands of people who are perpetrating this crime, especially if it’s gotten to the point where someone has reported it and it’s been recorded so other people can know about it,” Schell said.
In Texas, Bell shares this opinion — and blames inaction on politicians being beholden to the gun lobby.
“People say that politicians need to be educated [about gun violence] but I think they are,” Bell said. “The only way we’re going to get things to ever change is if we can get something on the darn ballot and get states to vote and the public wins.”
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