By Jennifer Gerson / The 19th
When Rep. Gwen Moore was in her early 20s, her boyfriend put a gun to her head and threatened to shoot and kill her. He had been violent in the past, time after time, but this was the first time his violence was coupled with a firearm.
“I told him to shoot it or eat it,” Moore told The 19th. “He told me I was crazy and that he could have killed me.” But it was enough to defuse the situation at the moment. The boyfriend left, gun in hand. Moore, in turn, got in touch with two women she knew, coworkers who were casual acquaintances at best, and told them what had happened. The women “secreted me away,” Moore recalled, getting her away from her abuser.
“There was no support group, no hotline to call, no VAWA or anything like that,” Moore said, referring to the Violence Against Women Act, the landmark legislation first passed in 1994 that funds legal and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. “It wasn’t the first act of violence I had experienced and it wasn’t even the last, but it was part of a pattern. And finally, I escaped.”
Fifty years later, Moore now serves in the House of Representatives as a Democrat representing the Milwaukee area, the first Black person elected to Congress from Wisconsin. She introduced a resolution in Congress Tuesday calling attention to the “relationship between firearm violence, misogyny and violence against women” and asked for increased attention to preventing those with a history of domestic violence from accessing guns. The timing is not a coincidence. On November 7, the Supreme Court will hear the case of United States v. Rahimi, which centers around a 1994 federal law that bars those with standing domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns. Because of her own experiences, it’s a case Moore can’t stop thinking about, knowing firsthand the potential implications of failing to disarm abusers.
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“My hope is that the Supreme Court leaves an opening for us” to regulate gun possession, Moore said, noting details of the Rahimi case that are central to the defense’s argument: that he had not been convicted of criminal domestic violence charges, but was only subject to a civil protective order after assaulting multiple women and threatening them with firearms. He was found in violation of the federal law only after he had been charged with another crime that resulted in a search of his home that turned up multiple guns and rounds of ammunition.
Moore, a former co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, said she’s concerned about the potential of limiting the regulation of firearms to only those who have already been criminally charged with abuse. “We want to see some prevention. You see the handwriting on the wall. And after the handwriting on the wall comes the fist into the wall,” Moore said. She pointed out that this is exactly what happened in the Rahimi case. “First he slapped her, then he went out and got a gun. Does he have to kill her before we can take the gun?”
She pointed to the consequences that others have paid, and continue to pay. “Sixty-eight percent of mass shootings in the five-year period between 2014 and 2019 happened after the shooter had either killed an intimate partner or a family member, [and] had a history of domestic violence. The absolutely number one reason women die in pregnancy is from gunfire and not any of these other very dangerous things that have put the United States on the map for poor maternal mortality,” Moore said. “We have fallen hard on the altar of the Second Amendment.”
Again, Moore reflects on her own experience with intimate partner violence and gun violence. “I did not think I could survive it,” she said. “I am a survivor and resilient, but people should not expect to have to be resilient. That’s not fair. It’s not flattering.”
In sharing her own experience with intimate partner violence today, Moore said she wants people to understand that “it’s not a rare thing. It happened to me. I didn’t want to die, but I was so tired. I was a victim of violence, and when this happened it was just another moment and I was just tired. It was yet another moment of abuse I was experiencing and I decided to just say, ‘Fuck it.’”
She knows she’s lucky to be alive today — and doesn’t want other survivors of domestic violence, or any Americans, to have to rely on luck to survive gun violence.
Jennifer Gerson is a reporter on our breaking news team. She was the recipient of the 2015 Maggie Award for her reproductive and sexual health reporting work at Yahoo Health. In 2019, she was twice nominated by the American Society of Magazine Editors for her work in Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. She was also one of the founding editors of Jezebel.com.