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Mara S. Solberg, Horace, N.D., Published October 14 2013

Letter: Domestic abuse clearly linked to weapons background checks

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, a time for our country to unite around the common goal of ending violence against women and children in the United States.

In North Dakota, I have been part of this movement to work on behalf of victims of domestic violence who have seen too much pain and exploitation in their lives. This work is personal to me because after years of abuse, my own sister died after many years in a violent relationship with her husband. Her story is sad, and though she did not die at the hands of her husband, she died unable to cope with all the suffering and pain she went through.

Unfortunately, many could say the same thing about a loved one’s death but sometimes the shame, hurt or disappointment often silences us.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has been an important and outspoken advocate on behalf of battered women in North Dakota and across the nation. Although she voted against background checks legislation, requiring background checks on private gun sales in commercial settings, Sen. John Hoeven, R.-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R.-N.D., did as well. I feel these legislators should support background checks in a bipartisan effort to help keep women safer.

Every day, domestic abusers have easy access to firearms. It is impossible to talk about preventing violence against women without addressing the state of our gun laws. Currently in North Dakota, domestic abusers and other violent offenders can purchase firearms online and at gun shows from private gun sellers without background checks and no questions asked.

And the tragic costs are real. Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other economically similar countries. The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.

Heitkamp championed her re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and I listened to her speak at roundtables. She has been helpful and attentive to many women including me.

I feel the issue here is the lack of bipartisan support in our state for background checks. Since its inception, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has already blocked more than 2 million attempted gun sales to prohibited purchases, including 250,000 gun sales to domestic abusers. Thirty-eight percent fewer women are shot in states where background checks are in place.

Unfortunately, in our state, Omar Mohamed Kalmio in Minot, Nolan L. Hett in Upham and Lyle Cordts in Grand Forks, all with criminal histories, were able to purchase a firearm that killed their partners.

Our legislators must be willing to reconsider background check legislation to help protect women in our state and across the country.