11/20/2013 04:13 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Standing Up for Victims of Domestic Violence -- the Domestic Violence Criminal Disarmament Act

Just over a year ago, our country mourned for the tragic loss of Zina Daniel. Zina was shot and killed by her estranged husband while at work in the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin. She was a mother of two daughters and was well loved by her family and the community. Last month, I met with Zina's brother, Elvin, who is a National Rifle Association supporter but also a strong advocate for women like his sister. Elvin has since courageously championed common-sense gun laws, like universal background checks, that help domestic violence victims and could have prevented the loss of his sister.

Zina's story shocked the nation and made national headlines, but it also hit home in a real way for families of victims who have endured similar tragedies. Unfortunately, Zina's story is not uncommon. Last year in my home state of Wisconsin, Zina was among 52 deaths that resulted from 38 domestic violence homicide incidents. Each month on average, 46 women are shot to death by an intimate partner in our country, and abused women are five times more likely to be killed if the abuser owns a firearm.

This is not a new realization of a grave problem. The danger posed by a gun in the hands of a domestic violence abuser has long been recognized as a serious threat to the public safety of women. In the 1990s, Congress took steps to address this issue by making it a federal prohibition to possess a dangerous firearm when an abuser becomes convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, or when an abuser is subject to a full protection order.

But today, there are gaps across federal, state, and local governments that allow preventable situations to slip through the cracks. For example, it is not uncommon for federal authorities to remain in the dark about a prohibited person's change of status. In many cases, states do not have adequate resources and enforcement mechanisms to follow up and ensure that existing guns are surrendered once a person becomes prohibited from possessing them.

Women victims need strong policies across the board when it comes to removing a gun from a dangerous domestic violence situation, which is why I am introducing the Domestic Violence Criminal Disarmament Act. My bill would encourage states to adopt baseline policies that require officials to routinely take into account whether a gun is present in a domestic violence situation and also take steps to remove the firearm from the equation if it is illegally possessed or is determined to be a threat to the victim.

Affected victims and their families, law enforcement officers, and advocacy groups, know far too well that the most dangerous time for a victim is when he or she takes the first action to actually leave the abuser. Those who serve as the point of first contact for victims -- state and local law enforcement officers, judges, and court officials -- ought to be doing everything in their power to recognize and respond to the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations, especially when it is much more likely to help prevent the death of a victim or others.

There is much work to be done, and some states have already taken steps to address existing gaps. According to a March New York Times article, a handful of states have adopted policies that require judges to order the surrender of firearms when issuing certain protection orders. The article notes that although enforcement is still an issue, these laws have seen success -- citing a 2010 study in the journal Injury Prevention that found a 19 percent reduction in intimate partner homicide. Although no legislation will completely eliminate domestic violence-related gun homicides, we can work to reduce these deaths and the pain that follows from this senseless violence.

Meeting with Elvin Daniel reminded me that many domestic violence victims are often not survived by a strong voice that turns tragedy into a message of hope for other victims. I am committed to being one more voice for those faceless victims of our past and future.