After the National Rifle Association urged legislators to oppose the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that the House approved last week, Amy Klobuchar said the organization had shown its true colors. The Minnesota senator, who is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, claimed the NRA's position "shows where they are when it comes to safety and when it comes to protecting women."
The NRA, in other words, does not care about violence against women, or at least, it does not care enough to accept the new gun control provisions in the House version of the bill. This blithe dismissal of the NRA's legitimate complaints about those provisions makes Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, sound like an authoritarian demagogue who equates concern about civil liberties with indifference to crime.
Criticism of the NRA's opposition to the bill has focused on the least objectionable gun provision, which would close the so-called boyfriend loophole by expanding the list of violent misdemeanors that disqualify people from owning firearms. Those crimes currently include violence against a boyfriend or girlfriend only if he or she has cohabited or produced a child with the perpetrator — a requirement that makes little sense if the aim is to disarm people who are inclined to assault intimate partners.
The provision dealing with protective orders is more problematic. Under current law, people subject to such orders may not possess guns, but only when they have had an opportunity to contest claims that they pose a threat.
The House bill would expand the disqualification to ex parte orders, which are issued without a hearing, can last a few weeks and may be renewable after that. That change should trouble anyone who cares about due process, as it takes away people's constitutional rights based on allegations they have had no chance to rebut.
Another provision of the House bill is even more far-reaching. It would permanently deprive someone of his Second Amendment rights if he has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking, a crime that need not involve violence, threats or even a victim the offender knows.
In Pennsylvania, for example, someone can be guilty of misdemeanor stalking if he "repeatedly commits acts toward another person," including communications, that "cause substantial emotional distress." Stalking laws in states such as Arizona, Colorado and New York likewise encompass repeated communications that cause emotional distress.
As NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker noted, such stalking could involve "harassing messages" on Facebook or nasty posts on Twitter. This sort of stalking is pretty far afield from "violence against women."
It is doubtful that people convicted of such misdemeanors, especially if they involve remote contact with victims they have never met, have demonstrated violent tendencies that should forever disqualify them from exercising the constitutional right to armed self-defense. But instead of making the case for such a broad exclusion, the bill's backers suggest that questioning it is tantamount to siding with wife beaters and girlfriend murderers.
Before the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared: "Members have a decision to make: will they protect survivors of stalking & domestic abuse? Or are they willing to allow their convicted stalkers & abusers to have access to firearms?"
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a presidential contender, deemed the NRA's criticism "absolutely outrageous." Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., insisted, "I am not someone who wants to take people's guns away," although that is what the bill she supports would do.
"I am not paying attention to the rhetoric of the N.R.A. because I can't be distracted," said Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga. "What's most important is putting forth good legislation to save as many lives as we can."
This casual disregard for civil liberties is reminiscent of Donald Trump's recommendation, during a meeting last year with members of Congress, that police should "take the guns first, go through due process second." When it comes to sacrificing constitutional rights in the name of public safety, Democrats see eye to eye with the president.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobSullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.