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The bipartisan agreement on gun legislation announced on Sunday might be seen as lukewarm by gun control advocates. But one provision heralds a potentially big victory for advocates for victims of domestic violence after years of bitter stalemate – closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole”.

“Closing this gap is very important for the safety of victims of domestic violence,” said Emily Rothman, a Boston University professor who studies gun violence and domestic violence. “I think it’s great news that people are on the same page about this and that there’s a bipartisan agreement that people who abuse their partners shouldn’t have access to guns. fire.”

Senators reach bipartisan gun deal, heralding potential breakthrough

The loophole refers to the fact that while federal law prohibits the purchase of firearms by those convicted of domestic violence against someone they have been married to, lived with, or have a child with , she omits other romantic partners. Lawyers say this is a significant oversight, given that the proportion of murders committed by dating partners versus spouses is roughly equal, according to a Justice Department analysis.

“A marriage license, advocates say, should not be the line that authorities can sway,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a SUNY Cortland professor and author of several books on gun policy.

The legislation itself has yet to be drafted, leaving great uncertainty about the content of the final bill. The statement announcing the agreement, signed by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the Senate, points out that it includes provisions to encourage more states to enact red flag laws to prevent the purchase of weapons by people who ‘a judge deems at risk of violence; and an expansion of the number of sellers required to conduct background checks on potential buyers. It would also earmark billions of dollars for mental health care and improving school safety.

For victims’ advocates, the stakes of closing the boyfriend loophole, in particular, are high: “I think closing that particular loophole may be the most important and beneficial part of the whole. “said Spitzer, while cautioning that a lot depends on what language ends up in the final bill.

“It really all depends on the wordsmiths who craft this layout,” he said.

States take action to prevent domestic abusers from carrying guns

Research shows that the presence of guns can have devastating consequences in situations of domestic violence: a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her attacker has access to a gun, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

There is also a strong link between domestic violence and mass shootings. A study found that in 68% of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019, the shooter either murdered a family member or romantic partner or had a history of domestic violence.

Even when firearms are not lethal, research shows that they are used by attackers to threaten victims. A study by Rothman found that recent gun owners were nearly 8 times more likely to threaten their partners with the gun than non-owners, including cleaning a gun during an argument, threatening to shoot a victim’s pet or by shooting the gun during an argument. .

“If a person is abusive and violent towards their partner, it is better to keep guns away from them. I haven’t met a lot of people who disagree with that,” Rothman said.

But like most gun debates in the United States, what many Democrats and some Republicans consider common sense has not translated into a political consensus strong enough to enact legislation.

The “boyfriend loophole” appears in both state and federal legislation, and some of the kinds of red flag laws this bipartisan framework hopes to push exclude dating partners from increased gun control. In some states, restraining orders also only apply to a spouse or domestic partner.

The disagreement over the boyfriend loophole has been at the center of a debate around the Violence Against Women Act 1994, which also excluded dating partners for years. The National Rifle Association lobbied aggressively against attempts to close the loophole during reauthorization debates in 1996 and 2018.

The House voted successfully to reauthorize VAWA last year with language that added dating partners convicted of domestic violence and stalkers to the list of people who should not be able to own guns.

This added language, however, drew opposition from the NRA and Republican lawmakers, and risked dooming the bill in the Senate. In the end, the senators chose to keep the loophole, rather than risk the VAWA floundering indefinitely.

“In order to get almost 60 votes, this provision became controversial and we had to measure the rest of the bill against this provision. It’s a tough choice, and we made the choice we thought was the right one,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said in March.

In a statement shared with The Washington Post, the NRA said it doesn’t take a position on “frameworks,” but is “committed to finding real solutions to help end violence in our communities.” “.

The statement continued, “The NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies, initiatives that override constitutional due process protections, and efforts to deprive respectful citizens of laws of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones in this or any other legislation.

Laws prohibiting abusers from accessing firearms can save lives, research finds: A 2018 study found that states with laws prohibiting those convicted of violent crimes from owning firearms recorded a 23% reduction in intimate partner homicides.

However, not all domestic violence experts view this type of legislation as an absolute good.

“Getting the guns out of the hands of people who abuse their partners is critical, but doing it using the criminal law is problematic,” said Leigh Goodmark, a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and author of the book. forthcoming “Imperfect Victims.

“The law will be applied disparately against people of color, especially black people, as all criminal laws are,” Goodmark said. “And that will require people to seek law enforcement intervention, which a lot of people, for good reason, are hesitant to do.”

Research shows that black women, who are twice as likely as white women to be shot by an intimate partner, face a myriad of barriers to getting help in abusive situations. Research also shows that relying on arrests and criminal convictions to prevent domestic violence can actually make victims, especially black women, less safe by exacerbating conditions such as poverty and unemployment that make abuse difficult. more likely and more difficult to escape.

Nor is the boyfriend loophole the only loophole through which abusers can arm themselves. A provision known as the Charleston loophole means that if a federal background check has not been completed within three days, the applicant can proceed to purchase a firearm. And background checks aren’t required at all for private gun sellers in many states — resulting in about 22% of gun owners never having to get one, according to a study.

For Goodmark, the latest legislation is uninspiring, given the scale of an “overwhelming epidemic of gun violence”.

“It won’t do anything, but it won’t do much, and it has real costs,” she said.

Yet this legislation is expected to be the biggest leap forward in decades.

“I have spoken to several responsible gun owners and people who provide gun safety training, all of whom agree that if a person has demonstrated that they are violent , or engages in stalking behavior, or makes criminal threats, that person should not have access to a firearm,” Rothman said. “This legislation is a step in the right direction.”