Republicans Sought To Undo Lifetime Gun Ban For Misdemeanor Domestic Violence

The new gun law closes the "boyfriend loophole," but dating partners convicted of domestic violence can get their guns back after five years. Convicted spouses can't.

WASHINGTON ― Republicans involved in bipartisan gun safety negotiations sought to undo lifetime bans on gun ownership for certain domestic abusers as part of the package.

Prior to the deal becoming law on Saturday, federal restrictions banned gun ownership for those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor against a spouse or intimate partner with whom they lived or shared a child, but did not include dating partners.

The final compromise bill closed the so-called boyfriend loophole, but it came with a catch: After a five-year period, the convicted person can get their gun rights back so long as they avoid committing another violent crime during that time.

The conditional five-year limit on the abuser gun ban was a key concession by Democrats in order to secure Republican support for closing the loophole, a longtime goal of gun safety advocates that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) championed in the negotiations.

Republicans wanted to create a way for spouses and other intimate partners to get their guns back, too. But a source familiar with the negotiations described that as a “no go” for Democrats.

A spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) confirmed that Republicans wanted to make gun rights restoration available to spouses and similarly situated misdemeanor offenders.

“This category currently has a lifetime ban and we pushed to change that,” the spokesman said in an email.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who led the negotiations for Democrats, told HuffPost last week that Republicans had a legitimate desire to make it possible for people convicted of misdemeanors to get their gun rights back, since not all states allow misdemeanor offenders to apply for clemency to clear their records.

But misdemeanor domestic violence convictions for current or former spouses will still result in lifetime bans on gun ownership.

“There was only a willingness to apply it to this new population,” Murphy said, referring to dating partners. “That was the nature of the compromise.”

Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Several categories of people are prohibited by federal law from owning guns, including those who have committed felonies, been adjudicated as “mentally defective,” or dishonorably discharged from the military. Gun rights groups question whether a misdemeanor, as opposed to a felony, should land someone on the “prohibited persons” list.

The National Rifle Association, for instance, opposes closing the boyfriend loophole and said lifetime gun bans over misdemeanor domestic violence offenses unfairly infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“There is good reason that rights are not extinguished for a lifetime based on misdemeanor convictions,” the NRA Institute for Legislative Action wrote in a blog post last week. “In addition to the law viewing misdemeanor conduct less harshly than felony conduct, misdemeanor defendants are not always provided with the same level of exhaustive due process as those charged with felonies.”

The group said that a misdemeanor domestic violence charge and lifetime gun ban can result from “merely touching a person’s clothing, bag, or something they are holding in their hand in a completely non-violent manner.”

In more than two-thirds of mass shootings from 2014 through 2019, the perpetrator killed family members or an intimate partner, or had a history of domestic violence, according to a 2021 paper published in the Journal of Injury Epidemiology.

The boyfriend loophole provision was an unexpected part of the bipartisan gun deal, which came about in the wake of two mass shootings by teenagers in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, that left more than 30 people dead. The core group of negotiators included Murphy, Sinema, Cornyn and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

The bill ― the most significant gun reform in decades ― provides funding for mental health services and expands background checks for teenage gun buyers.

Though Republicans blocked bills reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act last year because it would have closed the boyfriend loophole, few Republicans have publicly argued in favor of gun rights for convicted abusers.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, however, blasted the new gun deal as “soft on crime” because it allows abusive dating partners to get their guns back after five years.

“People who have been accused, tried and convicted of beating their significant other would automatically get their gun rights back after just five years,” Scott said. He was not among the 15 Republicans who voted for the bill.

Tillis told HuffPost last week that Scott’s criticism of gun rights restoration put him at odds with gun rights advocates.

“So I guess his argument is that he would never want to have those who are permanently banned from ever being considered for restoration, which is patently against what many of the gun rights groups are for,” Tillis said.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.

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