Representative Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, South Kingstown, was the lead sponsor of a domestic violence/gun control bill in this year’s General Assembly. She told me about domestic violence and her hopes of the bill becoming law now that Speaker Matiello has signaled an end to the current stand-off, with an indication that the House will meet again in September.
When you were first elected, what did you make of the House of Representatives in relation to domestic violence issues?
“The first domestic violence bill I remember voting on related to strangulation and whether or not it should be brought up to a felony. The debate on the floor was challenging and I felt I had to speak out, but there are still a lot of attitudes, to this day, that consider it a private matter.”
Domestic violence is about control?
“It is 100 per cent about power and control in relationships. It starts off perhaps very innocuously perhaps at first, behaviors increase over time and it is not just physical but mental and emotional abuse, cutting people off not only from money but also from family. It destroys a person’s perception of themselves. These are cruel crimes.”
Was working with others to get the bill important?
“There is no way we could have got this done without the domestic violence coalition and the Rhode Island coalition against gun violence. To have the support of Everytown and Moms Demand Action was critical. They kept working across the board and it educated me – what they brought to the table. They amplified what I was able to do in outreach. As constituents of my fellow representatives it meant reps met people who have experienced domestic violence.”
“Another thing made me dig deeper into my reserves is the data; the majority of mass shootings are committed by someone who has a history of domestic violence and most women are killed by instances of domestic violence. Knowing these two things made it all the more imperative for us to pass this. It makes no sense to leave abusers armed. These are individuals who have made it their daily quest to control another individual, inflict fear on that person and the implications are not just for that person, it is for their children and for individuals who happen to be standing next to them when the abuser decides to kill them.”
Have other states passed similar bills?
“Nearly half of the other States have passed similar legislation and it is not just liberal leaning blue States but places like Texas, North Dakota.”
“It is worth noting that the Federal Government already prohibits domestic abusers from possessing firearms, so once someone is convicted in Rhode Island they are not able to purchase a new firearm. There is such a disconnect, someone can be federally prohibited but Rhode Island cannot remove guns from the home.”
And you are confident that the House will be recalled and the bill passed?
“I am 100% confident that this is going to pass. I met with the Speaker (last week) – he is committed to make sure this bill crosses the line. I think it is important we come back and finish this session out as I would hate to have a tragedy to happen between now and then because of our failure to act on this, but I feel confident that this is a top priority for house leadership and the senate to get this pass so I am very optimistic.”
Throughout August I will be writing about domestic violence issues for RI Future. You can follow links to these interviews and stories via my Steve Rackett Writes page or follow me on Twitter: @Spring_is_ours. Next week I talk to Deborah Debare, Executive Director of Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.