Demonstrators call for changing gun laws in a rally in front of the White House. (Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
Deputy editorial page editor, columnist

The debate over measures to reduce gun violence poses a cruel paradox. The most effective steps are politically unthinkable and likely unconstitutional. More restrained approaches, such as tighter background checks and reduced ammunition magazine sizes, have proved maddeningly impossible to maneuver through the political process and are open to the charge that they would not stop the killing.

This critique is correct but unpersuasive. With hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, small tweaks will not stop the carnage; certainly no single tweak alone will. Yet that is an argument for achievable half-measures, not for paralysis. And despite the otherwise gridlocked politics of gun control, there may be a sliver of political hope for proposals to address a relatively small but especially heartbreaking aspect of the problem: the lethal mix of guns and domestic abuse.

Since the 1990s, federal law has barred those convicted of domestic abuse from legally buying guns. But existing law suffers from a “stalker gap,” a “boyfriend gap” and a “restraining-order gap.” Individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses are not barred from passing background checks and buying guns. In addition, abusers who are not married, do not live together or do not share a child — those in dating relationships — aren’t covered by the ban.

More controversially, although abusers subject to permanent restraining orders cannot legally possess or purchase guns, no such prohibition applies in situations where only a temporary order is in place. In other words, the protections are lowest at precisely the point when women are in the greatest danger.

The numbers demonstrate both the gender gap in the nature of violent crime and how deadly these loopholes may be.

As to the gender gap: Women are less likely than men to be the victims of violent crime, but when they are, the perpetrator is far more likely to be someone they know. Between 2003 and 2012, one-third of female murder victims were killed by a male intimate partner, compared with 2.5 percent of men, according to figures analyzed by the Center for American Progress.

More than half of these killings were committed with guns. The numbers are staggering: 6,410 deaths, slightly fewer than the total number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, having a gun in the house increases the risk of intimate-partner homicide by eight times compared with households without guns — and 20-fold when there is a history of domestic violence.

As to the loopholes: One study of female murder victims in 10 cities found that 76 percent of women murdered by a current or former intimate partner experienced stalking in the preceding year. The share of victims killed in dating situations is rising; nearly half of those killed by intimate partners in 2008 were murdered by boyfriends, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And in the 17 states that have expanded gun prohibitions to those subject to temporary restraining orders, overall intimate-partner homicides fell by nearly one-fifth. Nor do violent abusers simply turn to other methods when deprived of guns; according to Michigan State University criminologist April Zeoli, prohibiting those subject to domestic-violence restraining orders from having guns reduces not only firearm homicides but also murders by other means.

Could confronting domestic violence be an exception to the general gridlock on gun violence? Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after the Tucson shooting, has launched an effort to push for federal and state changes.

In Congress, a proposal by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would close the stalker and boyfriend gaps just attracted a Republican co-sponsor, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk; a companion bill in the House, by Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, is also backed by a Republican, Robert Dold of Illinois. A separate proposal, by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would also bar those subject to temporary restraining orders from having guns, subject to later review.

Unsurprisingly, if sadly, the National Rifle Association opposes even the Klobuchar-Dingell bill, saying it would “turn disputes between family members and social acquaintances into lifetime firearm prohibitions” and “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

Tell that, please, to the father of a daughter murdered by her boyfriend. Tell it to the sister of a young woman killed by a man who plea-bargained his stalking offense down to a misdemeanor. Emotional manipulation? Please. At that, the NRA has no parallel.

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