With studies suggesting a link between animal abuse and future violence, a Massachusetts congresswoman announced legislationThursday that seeks to keep guns out of the hands of individuals convicted of animal cruelty charges.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who has sponsored other legislation to protect domestic violence victims and their pets, said her new bill seeks to close a loophole that allows those convicted of animal cruelty to have firearms.
Although federal law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony from having firearms, Clark noted that many states prosecute animal abuse as a misdemeanor offense. That, she argued, has led people who have committed violent crimes that are predictive of future violence to still posses guns.
The congresswoman said her proposed “Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat of Future Gun Violence Act” would end gun access for those with misdemeanor animal cruelty convictions.
The bill, she added, is modeled on legislation Congress passed in 1996 to bar individuals convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence charges from accessing firearms.
Pointing to data from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University, Clark argued that such a measure is needed given the ties between animal abuse cases and recent mass shootings.
“There is a well-documented link between animal abuse and future violence,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “From Columbine to Parkland to Sutherland Springs, these perpetrators of mass gun violence had a history of animal abuse, and addressing this pattern of behavior is part of the solution when it comes to preventing gun violence and saving lives.”
The MSPCA and Northeastern University study found that individuals who commit animal abuse are five times more likely to commit violence against people than those who do not abuse animals.
According to Clark’s office, data further suggests that about half of all school shooting perpetrators between 1988 and 2012 engaged in some form of animal cruelty, while seven in 10 convicted animal abusers will commit another crime in 10 years.
T. Christian Heyne, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence legislative director, lauded Clark’s bill, offering that past violent behavior is often “the greatest indicator of future violence.”
“Cruelty toward and abuse of animals is often seen as a warning sign for domestic abuse and other violent behavior,” he said in a statement. “The AVERT Future Gun Violence Act of 2018 identifies this warning sign and takes the important step of prohibiting the possession of a gun for someone convicted of animal abuse.”
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, praised the congresswoman for “highlighting the link between animal cruelty and violence toward people,” noting that the FBI has long profiled mass shooters who had early connections to animal cruelty.
“Cruelty in any form must be taken seriously and stopped. Law enforcement has long recognized this link, and this legislation would make communities safer by taking action to intervene early,” she said.
The FBI amended the National Incident-Based Reporting System in 2016 to start collecting data specifically on animal abuse, in part, to study the connection between such actions and future violent behavior.
The congresswoman formally introduced the measure in late June. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, has signed on as a co-sponsorof the legislation.
The American Psychological Association has also come out in support of Clark’s bill.