Massachusetts Congresswoman Introduces The AVERT (Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat) Future Gun Violence Act 

Congresswoman Katherine Clark with her four-legged family member, Bodie. Photo from Facebook.

Last week, Congresswoman Katherine Clark introduced the Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat (AVERT) of Future Gun Violence Act as a commonsense step toward preventing individuals with a propensity for violence from accessing firearms. The bill prohibits individuals with a misdemeanor conviction for animal cruelty from possessing a firearm.

“There is a well-documented link between animal abuse and future violence,” Congresswoman Clark 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 AVERT Act seeks to close a loophole created in the prosecution of those convicted of animal cruelty. The current federal law prohibits individuals who have been convicted of a felony from possessing firearms. However, in many states, animal abuse is often prosecuted as a misdemeanor. As a result, individuals who have committed a violent crime that is predictive of future violence are still allowed to possess firearms. This used to be the case with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, another crime with a high-risk of future violence. In 1996, Congress acted to close this dangerous loophole by prohibiting individuals with misdemeanor convictions from possessing a firearm. The AVERT Act seeks to accomplish the same objective.

“The greatest indicator of future violence is past violent behavior,” said Christian Heyne, Legislative Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “Cruelty toward and abuse of animals is often seen as a warning sign for domestic abuse and other violent behavior. 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. We thank Representative Clark for her attention to this issue and fully support the passage of this bill.”

The American Psychological Association is also supporting the legislation.

According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and Northeastern University, individuals who commit animal abuse are five times more likely to commit violence against people than individuals who do not abuse animals. In fact, nearly half of all perpetrators of school shootings between 1988 and 2012 engaged in some form of animal cruelty. On average, 70% of convicted animal abusers will commit another crime within 10 years and nearly 40% of those follow-on crimes will be violent. This link between animal abuse and future criminality is so strong that in 2016 the FBI amended the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to start collecting data specifically on animal abuse.

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