In 1994, Congress passed a landmark law called the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

It took important steps to combat violent behavior and domestic abuse against women by giving law enforcement the resources to track down and apprehend serial abusers, prohibiting those abusers from possessing guns, strengthening penalties against domestic violence and funding community organizations to support victims. 

Daniel Baer

In 2000, 2005 and 2013, Congress reauthorized VAWA. With President Obama’s support, VAWA was updated and improved in 2013 to expand protections to LGBTQ individuals, undocumented immigrants and people on tribal lands.

VAWA is up for reauthorization in 2019, and the U.S. House passed a much-needed update this spring (VAWA 2019). But this bill hasn’t become law. It’s stuck in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, where Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner is helping block it from coming up for a vote. Here’s why:

VAWA 2019 includes a much-needed update to close the “boyfriend loophole.” While earlier versions of VAWA prohibited gun possession by domestic abusers who are married to, live with or have a child with their victim, VAWA lacked enforcement provisions and protections for women who are abused by dating partners.

The need to close the “boyfriend loophole” is clear. In 2019, unmarried women are equally likely to be killed by their dating partners as married women are by their spouses.

And the solution is straightforward. VAWA 2019 empowers law enforcement to confiscate guns from domestic abusers and stalkers, including boyfriends or dating partners.

It stands to reason that when single women face the same risks and should be entitled to the same protections as married women, VAWA 2019 should pass easily in the U.S. Senate. 

Unfortunately, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to put VAWA 2019 up for a vote. McConnell, who has dubbed himself the “Grim Reaper” of progressive legislation, has banished it to what he calls his “legislative graveyard,” where other much-needed reforms have gone to die. 

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McConnell’s refusal to consider VAWA 2019 is morally reprehensible, and his jokes about graveyards are stunningly disrespectful to victims and their families.

But Coloradans should expect their Sen. Cory Gardner to stand up to McConnell and call for an immediate vote on VAWA 2019. Instead, Gardner dismissed efforts to pass VAWA 2019 as “playing politics.”

Why would Cory Gardner refuse to stand up for Colorado women and support VAWA passage? Because the National Rifle Association (NRA) is opposed to closing the “boyfriend loophole.”

The NRA has taken the position that it doesn’t matter whether gun buyers are law-abiding or domestic abusers, that a sale is a sale, and preventing abusive boyfriends from buying assault rifles is bad for business. 

So, for the first time, the NRA is “scoring” VAWA 2019. This means if Gardner votes for VAWA he will receive a demerit for voting against interests of the corporate gun lobby, and he could lose his “A” rating on the NRA’s report card.

But Cory Gardner depends on the NRA to get re-elected. He is one of the top five recipients of NRA money in the entire U.S. Congress, to the tune of nearly $4 million in campaign cash. 

So Gardner opposes VAWA 2019. He would prefer not to cross the NRA, even with tens of thousands of Colorado women who are victims of domestic abuse every year at risk of further harm. This is an appalling example of the corrosive effect of corporate money in politics. 

Courageous community organizations like the Colorado chapters of the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Colorado Ceasefire are calling for a vote on VAWA re-authorization.

They’re urging the U.S. Senate to immediately pass VAWA 2019, and pressuring Gardner to do the right thing for Colorado women and families. They deserve our support.

And next fall, we will have to elect leaders who will refuse to accept corporate PAC money, who will stand their ground to fight for action on gun safety.

To do that, we’ll have to replace captured career politicians like Cory Gardner with independent public servants who haven’t been bought by the gun industry.

Dan Baer is a Colorado native and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Dan served as a U.S. ambassador and deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, and in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet as head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @danbbaer