How the NRA Weakened the Violence Against Women Act Update

This article is part of the The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up HereSubscribe to receive stories similar to this in your inbox

Washington can only overcome a few challenges. There are also tornado-rescue plans and hurricane-relief programs. There are also wildfires and earthquakes. Both Red States and Blue States were affected by the opioid epidemic. COVID-19 proved that this unity thesis was valid, and also showed the necessity to review criminal justice. But America in crisis gives DC the right to ignore political divisions.

The policy was in place until then, and it places the protection of women at odds with restrictions on guns.

A landmark piece of legislation that protects women has been in place for the past three decades. It was assumed uncontroversial and durable. Bill Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Congress has routinely renewed it every five year. The Violence Against Women Act was temporarily repealed in 2011. It provides funds for police and prosecution to pursue those who target women. The sentencing guidelines were established for these crimes and the law created a Justice Department unit to fight gender-based offences. In 2019, Democrats tried to increase the protections provided for women by including provisions that protect them against stalkers and unmarried partners. This effort ran into oppositions from the guns industry which claimed that the restrictions were too complicated and confusing.

So, for the last three years, the nation’s hallmark law to keep women safe fell into neglect, at least on paper. Sure, Congress found backdoor ways to fund its main provisions, but the symbolism of its fall from the books wasn’t to be missed. When Angelina Jolie, an advocate for the law, called the Capitol to request a meeting with them all said “yes”. The Violence Against Women Act was ultimately a footnote that reminded everyone how even pragmatic and politically-popular measures could be tripped up.

It was there at all up until last week, when legislators reintroduced it to the statutes for a five year renewal under the $1.5 trillion temporary spending plan. This will keep the government in operation through September.

Biden supported its revival. “This law broke the dam of congressional resistance and cultural resistance and it brought this hidden epidemic out of the shadows,” the President said Wednesday in the East Room of the White House with, yes, Jolie in the crowd. But what he didn’t mention: the gun industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA) had once again flexed their influence, and convinced lawmakers to drop provisions from the law.

Biden had fought for a 1990 version. The law needed to be updated. After five decades in Washington, Biden still sees the Violence Against Women Act as something he’s most proud of, a legacy-defining piece of legislation that saved countless lives. He was also able to get out of his doghouse as he presided over an all-male confirmation hearing, where Anita Hill spoke about the alleged sexual harassment she suffered at the hands Clarence Thomas.

The law speaks about the society’s treatment of women. But it does not address the Washington culture. All supported the broadening of renewal. There is hardly a member of Congress who hasn’t heard from a constituent—or family member—about violence facing women. However, when the political reality of tightening firearm restrictions was presented to Congress, it became toxic.

Although the NRA may be a ghost of what it was in the past, as it faced intense criticism over recent years, and has been under unrelenting scrutiny about its finances, it managed to maintain the renewal law, which is, for most, common sense. It is frightening to think of an NRA interest at a Republican primaries. It is also why it is so difficult to have real discussions about guns these days.

The law states that domestic abuse victims could lose their firearms if they are married to the victim at any time, cohabitate with them, have a child with them, or were married before the victim. Democrats also sought to restrict stalkers, victims-dating partners, and those with a history of sex to guns in the House update.

This was an ineligible request by the NRA.

Between the law’s lapse three years ago and its renewal last week, Democrats ultimately dropped their chase of the so-called “boyfriend loophole” in order to get Republican backing. The update includes more protections for survivors and money to support law enforcement against sexual assault and violence. It also provides additional funds for legal services and rape crisis centres. It is possible that the NRA has lost its luster. However, the NRA’s popular law is still in the hands of Republicans. For the next five year, stalkers and ex-boyfriends can feel safe knowing that guns will not be taken by federal authorities.

Washington: Make sense of the important things Subscribe to the D.C. Brief newsletter.

Read More From Time

Send an email to Philip Elliott at


Related Articles

Back to top button