For National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Let's Close the Boyfriend Loophole

Hand holding gun, close-up, side view
Hand holding gun, close-up, side view

"Never let the hand you hold, hold you down." These are words of empowerment for millions of survivors of domestic violence in America. The words could also apply to many members of Congress, who must let go of the hands of gun industry lobbyists. Their hands hold campaign contributions but they also hold down gun safety legislation. Closing the "boyfriend loophole" could save thousands of lives because it means stopping access to guns for all domestic abusers, including dating partners. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a great time to pass this commonsense (and common-ground) legislation.

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which is current federal law, gun ownership is prohibited for only certain kinds of domestic abusers: current and former spouses, people who have fathered children with a victim, and abusers who live with their victims. A "boyfriend loophole" exists because the language of the Brady law does not include dating partners and stalkers.

In 2013, Senator Amy Klobuchar proposed legislation in the Senate to close the loophole, and earlier this year, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell proposed the exact same legislation in the House -- and two Republican Congressmen are co-sponsors. As of now, neither the Senate nor the House have moved the bills to a vote.

In America, one in three women and one in four men have suffered physical violence from their partners at some point in their lifetime. 94 percent of victims age 16-19 and 70 percent of victims age 20-24 were abused by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend. Based on data from the FBI, every month 52 women are shot and killed by their intimate partners. While some think arming a woman with a gun is an appropriate response to domestic violence, there is ample evidence proving that the mere presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent -- and those victims are the abused, not the abuser. A recent report from the Violence Policy Center showed that 62 percent of women shot and killed by men in 2013 were wives or girlfriends. Guns are a threat, not a protection, to the lives of women struggling with domestic violence.

At the state level, there has been a promising amount of progress made at stopping domestic abusers from getting access to guns. As of last year, in Minnesota, people convicted of violent crimes, including domestic assault, are banned from owning guns -- for life. Wisconsin and Washington passed laws making it easier for law enforcement to confiscate guns from people under restraining orders, protection orders, or domestic abuse injunctions. These policy accomplishments are bipartisan, and what's even more shocking, NRA lobbyists have been credited for playing a helpful role in these important reforms. Oregon passed a bipartisan law prohibiting guns for domestic abusers as well. However, when the original language of the legislation tried to expand domestic abusers to include dating partners, the NRA objected to Oregon's attempt at closing the boyfriend loophole. Another gun lobbyist expressed concern for false accusations of domestic violence leading to gun confiscation.

Clearly, it is time for Americans to demand Congress stand up to gun lobbyists' scare tactics and cheap semantics. Regardless of whether a domestic abuser is a boyfriend, spouse, ex-spouse, or father of his victim's child, that person should obviously lose the privilege of gun ownership. We must address the very real dangers of guns in dating violence and domestic abuse by closing the "boyfriend loophole." Passing sensible gun safety will not fix broken men, but it can prevent them from taking innocent lives.

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