This November, against the backdrop of a bitter election season, we should think about women like Vanessa Soyer. A mother of four and a soon-to-be grandmother, Vanessa loved to cook and spend time with her family and friends. She was a gifted artist, poet, and author who wrote about domestic violence. But on Nov. 16, 2015, Vanessa was murdered with a gun; her husband shot her 13 times in front of her 13-year-old son.
Days later, the GoFundMe page for her books on domestic violence read, “Nobody would've ever thought that the words from the pages of her books would become her reality.”
Vanessa’s story is as heartbreaking as it is familiar: It is the story of the deadly mix of domestic violence and guns.
As Election Day nears, each of us has the chance to go to the polls and cast our ballot for leaders who are committed to making women and families safer from the kind of gun tragedies that claimed the life of Vanessa Soyer.
As our country sinks further into a gun violence crisis, innocent women are dying at the hands of abusers and stalkers with guns — but yet our lawmakers in Washington refuse to act.
How urgent is this crisis? The gun murder rate for women in our country is 11 times higher than that of other comparable countries. From 2001 to 2012, 6,410 women were shot and killed by an intimate partner with a gun. That’s more than all of the American troops who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
The data is clear: Guns and domestic violence are a deadly mix.
That means our elected leaders need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.
First, our lawmakers should close the loopholes that let domestic abusers get around the current criminal background check system and buy guns with no questions asked. That’s a step we know saves lives: In states that have closed background check loopholes, 38 percent fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partners.
Second, our laws don’t take into account abuse in dating relationships and let abusive dating partners legally buy guns. Whether you are dating or married, abuse is abuse.
Third, loopholes in our gun laws let people with misdemeanor stalking convictions legally buy guns. They should never have the option of buying a gun. Period.
A vocal minority of lawmakers in Congress have blocked these responsible plans — even though a huge majority of Americans support them.
That vocal minority has worked to block progress. And at least in Washington, they’ve had a lot of success.
So, in this election, we have the power to send a clear message to the gun lobby and the lawmakers in its grip: If our leaders refuse to strengthen our laws to protect women and families from gun violence, we will use our voice and our vote to elect different leaders.
Together, we can talk to our friends, neighbors and families about our nation’s gun violence crisis. We can volunteer our time, knock on doors, and make calls for candidates who will make women and their families safer. And then on Nov. 8, we can vote for candidates up and down the ballot who support gun safety.
So, this election, we hope you’ll join us in remembering the courageous women like Vanessa, and honor them by voting to stop gun violence, and voting to build a safer country for our children and grandchildren.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords represented Southern Arizona in Congress from 2007 to 2012. She is a co-founder of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Alyssa Milano is an actress, producer, designer, and member of Congresswoman Giffords’ Women’s Coalition for Common Sense.
Connie Britton is an Emmy-nominated actress and a member of Congresswoman Giffords’ Women’s Coalition for Common Sense.
Image: Americans For Responsible Solutions (3).