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A Year After VAWA, Still More Work to Be Done

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On the night of her 20th birthday more than seven years ago, my niece Carol Kestenbaum, along with her best friend Nicole Schiffman, were shot and killed outside Carol's apartment. Carol was a sophomore at ASU, majoring in education. Nicole, a journalism sophomore at The University of Maryland, was in town for the weekend to celebrate with Carol.

The man who murdered Carol and Nicole was just an acquaintance -- the ex-boyfriend of Carol's former roommate. That night, he hid behind a car, waiting for them to return home. When they arrived, he shot my niece in the head -- she was killed instantly. Nicole died later at the hospital. The shooter killed himself.

A little over a year ago, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. While VAWA is a tremendous achievement in helping victims of stalking, domestic abuse, dating violence and sexual abuse, this anniversary is a reminder that there is still work to be done to save the lives of women across the country.

Forty-six women are shot to death each month by current or former partners. Educational and assistance programs that help women in abusive relationships -- and raise awareness for their friends and family -- are crucial, but so is preventing domestic abusers and stalkers from possessing guns. The statistics on stalking murders are staggering: More than three out of four female murder victims were stalked by their murderers, and almost nine in ten attempted murders of women were preceded by at least one stalking instance.

I commend Senator Jeff Flake for his support of VAWA last year, but I'm disappointed that he voted against comprehensive and enforceable background checks just a month later. The Manchin-Toomey legislation he voted against would have closed loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, people with severe mental illness and other dangerous people.

Senator Flake now has the opportunity to do more: His support for the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would be a significant step in reducing murders and saving lives. The legislation, currently making its way through Congress, would make it illegal for convicted stalkers to buy or possess guns.

It was devastating to learn of Carol's murder. At 20 years old, her life was just unfolding -- and we who loved her couldn't wait to see the great things she would do, and the person she would become. If we can save more lives by keeping dangerous people like Carol's killer from getting guns, it will spare other families from experiencing the grief we've felt and continue to feel each day.

On behalf of families across Arizona, I urge Senator Flake and other members of Congress to support the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act. Keeping guns away from stalkers is just common-sense -- and it will keep our daughters, nieces and sisters safer.