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McConnell's dilemma

Seven people were gunned down in Montana in the first seven months of 2019. If they had all died at the same place at the same time, the deaths would get public attention for months, if not years.

But these shootings were domestic violence, which occurs in communities all over our state everyday. In 2018, nine incidents of domestic violence were identified by the Victims Services Division in the Montana Department of Justice. That number includes six homicides and three homicide-suicide events.

Between the year 2000 and the end of 2016, there were 175 deaths in Montana due to domestic violence, according to the most recent biennial report of the Montana Domestic Violence Review Commission. Men were the assailants in 75% of these incidents; men almost always used firearms to kill. About two-thirds of the fatal incidents involved firearms, with stabbing, beating and strangulation accounting for most of the rest. One hundred percent of the reported child deaths were by firearms.

The 2003 Legislature created the Montana Domestic Violence Fatality Commission, mandating it to report to the people of Montana on this insidious violence. Men can be the victims, but most often males are the perpetrators with women and children the victims.

While the commission collects limited information on all domestic violence fatalities, it carefully investigates two cases a year. Members drawn from a wide range of law enforcement, court, health care and advocacy disciplines visit the location where the incident occurred, talking to local people — not to assess blame, but to learn how future tragedies can be prevented. The commission and other Montana initiatives against domestic violence have been supported through the federal Violence Against Women Act.

In April, the U.S. House voted 263 for and 158 against a five-year extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Montana's lone representative, Greg Gianforte voted against this lifesaving bill (HR 1585).

The Senate has failed to renew VAWA since the House approved it.

The House bill would renew grant programs to help states, localities and non-governmental organizations prevent gender-based crimes and help victims to recover. It also prohibits persons convicted of misdemeanor stalking or dating violence from possessing firearms; expands the availability of counseling, legal aid and alternative housing; ensures the eligibility of domestic-violence survivors for jobless benefits; bolsters tools for prosecuting offenders; strengthens tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians charged with committing crimes on reservations; improves services to help children exposed to domestic violence; expands rape prevention and education programs and steps up efforts to address sexual violence on campuses.

The ability of domestic abusers to obtain and use firearms is a huge risk for their partners. People who have threatened violence or physically attacked family members shouldn't have guns.

While the nation is debating how to prevent mass shootings, Congress and President Trump also must take action to prevent the shootings that kill one wife, mother or girlfriend at a time. 

Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines should support HR 1585 and press Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move this lifesaving legislation forward. Late last week, McConnell said "something" should be done in the wake of the two massacres that claimed at least 31 lives in 24 hours. Renewing VAWA is one of the first things to do.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.