Gun control’s weary warriors have been searching for a way to appeal to Republicans and give the issue a pulse in Congress. A couple of Midwestern women Democrats may have found a way to do it, by tying it to domestic violence.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell are pressing legislation to take guns out of the hands of men who abuse women. On Wednesday, Dingell introduced a bill along with a Republican, Robert Dold of Illinois, mirroring legislation Klobuchar reintroduced earlier this year that would target those convicted of stalking and abusive dating partners.

For both women, the issue is personal. As a county prosecutor, Klobuchar helped establish some of the first domestic violence service centers in the nation before coming to Congress. Dingell grew up in a household where domestic violence and guns were a constant worry.

“I understand what a gun in the wrong hands can do and the fear and the anxiety that you live with for a lifetime,” Dingell said in an interview. Dingell’s husband, former Rep. John Dingell, is a gun owner who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. “No one should assume where I am on guns,” she said. “This is a very narrow bill.”

Efforts to revive gun control in Congress have been virtually nonexistent for the past two years. In 2013, Republicans and a handful of Democrats refused to support even modest changes to firearms background check laws in the wake of school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, prompting activists to shift their focus to the state level. It’s in places like Illinois and South Carolina, that lawmakers have agreed to stiffen penalties and bar those convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns.

Now proponents are trying to recreate that success in Washington by focusing on specific categories of individuals who are at elevated risk of becoming violent. The approach also broadens the traditional gun coalition to women’s groups that target domestic violence, like MomsRising and National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“I have not given up hope by any means on these more pragmatic focused approaches,” said Klobuchar, who noted that “you have a state as red as South Carolina doing something on gun violence related to domestic violence.”

Current law bars people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms. At an event to unveil the Dingell-Dold bill on Wednesday, state-level bills were spotlighted that accomplish the same objectives. As of this month, bills addressing domestic abuse and gun violence have been passed or introduced in 23 legislatures.

Advocates for toughening gun laws say the lesson from the 2013 failure of legislation to expand background checks to Internet sales and gun shows is that comprehensive gun legislation is impossible in this Congress.

What is possible, they believe, is advancing legislation to focus on specific categories of individuals, including domestic abusers, those on the terrorism watch list and individuals with a mental health condition who pose a threat to the safety of others.

“This is a pretty modest deal on something that’s already publicly accepted as what we can do to safeguard our daughters, our sisters,” Dold said in an interview.

Even so, Klobuchar has yet to attract a Republican co-sponsor for her bill, and the Republican champion of the 2013 effort, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, said he doesn’t know much about it.

The National Rifle Association, which has squashed major gun legislation for two decades, opposes both bills. According to an NRA fact sheet, it will “not stand” for taking away a “fundamental civil right for a misdemeanor conviction.”

After the shootings in Newtown in 2012, Dingell began to share her personal story.

“I had a father that I’m sure loved me but could snap like that,” Dingell said on Wednesday. “When a gun was near you didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Dingell’s younger sister suffered from years of anxiety and eventually committed suicide.


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