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The “Boyfriend Loophole” Delaying Recent Gun Safety Negotiations

Following recent high-profile incidents of gun violence, negotiations concerning gun safety laws have been going on all across the United States. Congress is working to pass a bipartisan gun safety package, however, the “boyfriend loophole” is proving to be a considerable roadblock in finalizing the package.

The “boyfriend loophole” addresses whether or not an unmarried partner can own guns if they were previously found guilty of violence against a dating partner. Currently, the federal law only keeps people from purchasing a firearm if they are convicted of domestic violence while living with their partner, married to their partner, or have a child with their partner. 

Democratic lawmakers have been working to expand the law to also apply to dating partners for some time. This would include convicted stalkers and any individual under a protective order. Due to the fact that this law currently does not bar these individuals from purchasing and owning guns, it is referred to as “the boyfriend loophole”. 

Those in support of the law have repeatedly referred to data that shows the threat violent dating partners can pose if they own firearms. According to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety of U.S. CDC data, an average of 70 women are killed by an intimate partner with a firearm every month. Additionally, access to a gun has increased the risk of a woman being killed in a relationship with a history of domestic violence considerably, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2003.

So far at least 19 states have enacted laws to close this loophole according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. Other states such as Alabama, Colorado, and Iowa have laws that prohibit domestic abusers from owning guns but have not closed the loophole specifically. The hold-up in federal court specifically defining what kind of relationship would fit within their framework has caused debate. Congress is not sure how to define non-traditional relationships and how that would fit within the proposed law. 

The National Rifle Association has been opposed to closing this law, and earlier this year they successfully lobbied to keep new legislation addressing it out of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The NRA and others who are opposed see it as an unnecessary attempt to push gun control in a direction that will “deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones” 

Congress hopes to have settled the debates so that the package can move forward before the July Fourth recess beginning at the end of this week. However, with this challenge as well as red flag law debates it is unclear whether this will be possible or not. 

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