Editorials

Idaho legislators have a duty to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers

Dawn Jantzen’s daughter, Jaclyn Zabel, was shot to death in late May by her boyfriend, who then killed himself, authorities say. Jantzen lived through an abusive relationship and says people must understand why it’s difficult for women to leave: “When you decide to leave, you are thinking ‘I want to get out. I don’t want to get caught. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to lose my life. I don’t want to lose my children.’ There is no safe way of leaving.”
Dawn Jantzen’s daughter, Jaclyn Zabel, was shot to death in late May by her boyfriend, who then killed himself, authorities say. Jantzen lived through an abusive relationship and says people must understand why it’s difficult for women to leave: “When you decide to leave, you are thinking ‘I want to get out. I don’t want to get caught. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to lose my life. I don’t want to lose my children.’ There is no safe way of leaving.” kjones@idahostatesman.com

It’s a shame shared by every resident of Idaho: Since 2017, at least 13 women in our state have been killed by men they loved, or once loved.

Their slayings have helped make homicide one of the top 10 causes of premature death for Idaho women. And we aren’t doing all we could do to stop it.

Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton, in a chilling report, documented how frequently Idaho women die at the hands of current and former husbands and boyfriends.

Women like Jaclyn Zabel, 29, who told police as early as 2014 that her husband, Ian Stone, had beaten her in front of her children, and later that he threatened her with his gun. Stone returned May 28 to fulfill his promise.

Or like Lora Skeahan, 48, whose abusive boyfriend repeatedly violated no contact orders, returning home to beat and torment Skeahan, before killing her July 5.

The victims were of different ages and backgrounds, but they had in common boyfriends and husbands with a documented history of violence against women, and the means to carry out their threats to kill, thanks in part to inadequate state laws.

Idaho, unlike most other states, does nothing to prevent monsters who prey upon their former partners from obtaining and possessing firearms. State lawmakers could change that, and should.

Yet last year, the Idaho House of Representatives torpedoed a bill that would have prevented convicted domestic abusers from owning guns for two years.

Opponents said a federal law, the Lautenberg Amendment, already covers this sort of situation. It does. But inadequately.

Because the Lautenberg Amendment is a federal law, it often goes unenforced. Agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lack the manpower to follow up on every gun purchase by an abuser, assuming they even find out about it.

State and local law enforcement don’t have the authority to enforce federal law. The Lautenberg Amendment also is too limited. It forbids abusers only from buying weapons. It says nothing about weapons they already own.

And it contains a gaping boyfriend loophole. It applies only to a current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim, or someone with whom the offender shares a child. Boyfriends convicted of beating up their girlfriend or stalking their ex can go buy a gun that afternoon.

Twenty-nine states have adopted tougher state versions of the Lautenberg Amendment to protect their residents. Many confiscate weapons from abusers not allowed to own them, and they close the boyfriend loophole.

In states with such laws, intimate partner homicides occur with 10 percent less frequency, and domestic killings with guns decrease 14 percent.

Idaho would save lives with a similar law. Prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence or subject to domestic violence protective orders from buying guns, and require them to surrender any firearms and ammunition. Go even further and empower local law enforcement to temporarily confiscate weapons they find at the scene of a domestic violence incident until the situation is defused.

Such measures would not infringe on Second Amendment rights — period. The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has upheld these restrictions, and Idaho’s attorney general agreed last year that they met the state constitutional test.

This should not become a gun rights issue. The Idaho Statesman has always defended the rights of proper gun owners. But women have the right to be safe from violence, and the state has an obligation to do all it can to provide that safety.

Responsible gun owners have nothing to fear from legislation that keeps firearms out of the hands of those who would use them to kill women. In fact, it is in their interest to prevent guns from being misused.

Domestic violence is messy and complex. No single measure will prevent failed relationships from spiraling out of control. But sensible steps should be taken.

Domestic violence hotlines such as the ones run by Boise’s Women’s and Children’s Alliance and the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help if women reach out. So can centers such as Faces of Hope for women and children extracting themselves from abusive relationships.

But the bottom line is that lawmakers have a responsibility to make it harder for abusers to kill women.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.
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