Legislation would stymie gun violence by preventing perpetrators of animal cruelty from accessing firearms

Washington, D.C.— Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) today 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,” said Congresswoman Clark. “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. 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 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.”

“We commend Rep. Clark for her leadership on animal protection issues, and we thank her for highlighting the link between animal cruelty and violence toward people,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “For years, the FBI has profiled mass shooters who had early incidences of animal cruelty which escalated to violent behavior towards humans. 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.”  

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.

The full text of the bill can be found here.