No guns for known abusers

Rekha Basu

DES MOINES, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — Roseanna Otto was 23 and had been separated from her boyfriend five years when she was shot to death last May 27 in her Winterset, Iowa, home — as their two daughters slept in the next room.

Otto’s ex-boyfriend, Jerome Moyer III, has been charged with breaking into her house and murdering her with a single gunshot to the head.

According to a police report, he told a sibling after Otto was shot that he had killed her and planned to kill himself.

Moyer is scheduled to stand trial in June.

He’s also in line to serve a 15-year-sentence that previously was suspended for breaking into the house of another ex-girlfriend in 2015 and putting a knife to her throat.

In 2014, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse against Otto and received a deferred judgment.

How could he have a gun after those convictions?

Because of gaps in the law.

The federal Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, first passed in 1994, bans people from owning or buying guns if they were convicted of felony domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence-related protection order.

But that doesn’t apply if the abuse happened in a dating relationship (i.e., the couple wasn’t married or divorced), if the protective order was temporary or if the offenses were misdemeanors.

Otto’s sister, Lilly Steil, believes she would still be alive if those omissions had been fixed in the law, which has been up for reauthorization since last year.

The U.S. House last year, on a bipartisan vote, passed a bill to reauthorize and extend the gun bans to people convicted of misdemeanor stalking or domestic abuse, or subject to temporary restraining orders, and those in dating relationships.

But after the National Rifle Association opposed the firearms ban being extended to dating partners, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to put California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s companion bill, S. 2843, to a vote.

Feinstein had worked on it in the Judiciary Committee with Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.

But Iowa’s first female senator, a Republican, later withdrew her support and introduced a version without the expanded gun restrictions.

Now Steil has teamed up with Be A Hero Fund, founded by health care activist Ady Barkan.

It has launched a campaign called “Why, Joni?” urging the senator to change her stance.

Steil recently delivered to Ernst’s Des Moines, Iowa, office 45,000 letters representing the number of people nationally who have signed a petition calling on Ernst to close the so-called Boyfriend Loophole.

Noting that Ernst is herself a survivor of domestic and sexual assault, Steil asks, “Why is she not putting victims over the NRA?”

One possible reason: Ernst has been identified as the seventh-highest recipient of NRA political action committee funds.

In 2017, the New York Times, using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, said she had received a cumulative $3.12 million from the organization.

Ernst spokesman Brendan Conley didn’t answer a question on that.

But he wrote in an email, “As you may know, Sen. Ernst is a survivor herself and this is an issue that is personal for her.”

He said Ernst had worked closely with Feinstein, whom she called “a tremendous partner,” on a reauthorization (Ernst’s version).

But he said Democrats “walked away from the table.”

Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, who’s also on the Judiciary Committee, hasn’t taken a position on either VAWA bill, according to his spokesperson, Taylor Foy, noting neither has come before the committee this year.

But he said Grassley supports funding increases for various VAWA programs as proposed in Ernst’s bill.

In a Register op-ed last November, the executive director of the Adel, Iowa-based Crisis Intervention & Advocacy Center thanked Ernst for her advocacy on sexual violence.

But Johna Sullivan called her bill “a nonstarter” for excluding the additional gun restrictions, among other things.

Grassley bristles at any criticism of Ernst, saying in a statement forwarded by Foy, “As someone who has lived through a sexual assault, Sen. Ernst has shown real bravery and leadership to fight for other survivors by championing legislation to extend the Violence Against Women Act. It’s outrageous that anyone would insinuate that she doesn’t have survivors’ best interests at heart.”

No one is accusing Ernst of that.

Victim advocates are looking to her to use her unique position to push meaningful legislation keeping guns out of the hands of known abusers.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide five-fold.

This isn’t an ideological or partisan issue.

It’s about whether the gun lobby should be able to call the shots on legislation to save women’s (most victims are women) lives.

Conley says Ernst remains committed to working with Feinstein on a solution.

But that can’t happen if Ernst is unwilling to disarm abusers.

She, of all people, knows why that’s necessary.

In divorce papers filed against her former husband, Gail, she alleged he had abused her physically and mentally.

Gail Ernst even revealed his attitude in a Facebook post while they were married. It said, “What do you do if you see your ex running around in your front yard screaming and bloody? Stay calm. Reload. And try again.”

No advocate could have made a better case for why abusers shouldn’t have guns.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send emails to Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Des Moines Register.

Tribune Wire


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(5) comments


The author has deliberately left out two very important facts. The Lautenberg Amendment, the foundation of the VAGA, prohibits firearm possession from anyone who has committed a misdemeanor which involves as an element the use of force, against anyone who was a spouse,lived together, or share a child. The perp and victim shared the two children in the home. He was already prohibited from possession of a firearm. People do not appear 5 years after a breakup and commit murder if they had no connection such as children. It doesn't happen. This is an unfair, non-fact checked attack on Joni Ernst


"Why, Joni?"

It's because Sen. Joni Ernst is a survivor. This editorial calls on her to become an advocate. First, she'll have to recover.

Practically every aspect of a domestically abused survivor's life is altered in the aftermath of domestic abuse. The insidious and debilitating negative consequences of domestic abuse impede, often relentlessly and for a lifetime, a survivor's recovery. It takes tremendous strength, perseverance, resilience and resources to recover and go on to become an advocate for others domestically abused.

Because Sen. Ernst is a senator, don't expect more from her than you would expect from any recovering survivor. The journey is grueling regardless of one's title or lot in life.

To attribute her disappointing stance on legislation to her association$ with the NRA would be to oversimplify the matter. For example, her association might involve the difficulty encountered by domestically abused woman in transitioning from being controlled to being in control.

Holmes -- the real one

So very well said, zeitgeist.

An extremely insightful comment indeed.

Thank you for posting it.


The author has played fast and loose with the facts. She left out that they shared 2 children and that he was prohibited under federal law, the Lautenberg Amendment, for this reason. Anyone who commits a misdemeanor involving as an element the use of force against anyone that they were married to, lived with or shared a child with.


They had children together. He was already prohibited from firearm possession under federal law. The author left this out.

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