The U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Gun Safety Bill, which is the first federal gun safety law passed in a generation.
The legislation, which will now be signed into law by President Joe Biden, is limited in scope. But among its provisions is closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows some people who have experienced domestic violence to still buy firearms.
April Zeoli of Michigan State University explores the link between intimate partner violence, homicide and gun laws. She explains what this change means and why it will save lives.
What is the boyfriend’s loophole?
Under current federal law, intimate partnerships are only defined as those in which two people are or have been married, live or lived together as a couple, or have a child together. People who have been in a relationship are largely excluded from this definition.
As a result, dating partners are exempt from federal laws that prohibit individuals convicted of misdemeanors of domestic violence, or those under a domestic violence ban, from purchasing or possessing firearms. This is what is called the “boyfriend loophole”.
In other words, if you have two aggressors who both committed the same severe physical abuse on their partners, but one of them is married to his intimate partner and the other is not, then only the aggressor who is in marriage may be prohibited from having weapons.
What do the data on domestic violence and guns tell us?
Intimate partner homicides have been on the rise since around 2015, and this increase is almost entirely attributable to intimate partner homicides committed with firearms. Indeed, firearms are the most common weapon used in the killing of an intimate partner. In contrast, non-gun homicide rates for intimate partners have remained about the same over the period.
Research shows that when an aggressive male partner has access to a weapon, the risk of killing a female partner increases fivefold. We also know that guns are used to coerce, intimidate, and threaten intimate partners, and that intimate partner violence with a gun can lead to more symptoms of PTSD than non-gun intimate partner violence. With a nationally representative survey showing that 3.4% of victims of domestic violence have experienced non-fatal firearms by their abusers, combined with a large number of intimate partner homicides committed with firearms, this poses a serious threat to the public. healthcare.
Why are people now talking about the “boyfriend loophole”?
Talk of extending domestic violence firearm restrictions to dating partners occurs every few years.
This time, Congress has effectively passed a new gun safety law that will close or at least narrow the loophole. The wording of the proposed law extends the ban to those who “have or have had long-term relationships of a romantic or intimate nature.”
Several issues should be noted here. First, the motivation for the new gun safety law was the recent mass shootings and the hope of preventing future mass shootings. We know that many mass shootings often involve the killing of close associates or family members, and that some of the shooters have a criminal history of domestic violence prior to the mass shootings.
But mass shootings make up only a small percentage of shootings in the US. Intimate partner homicide is more common.
My research shows that when states expand gun restrictions on domestic violence bans to include dating partners, there is an associated decrease in intimate partner homicides.
However, the legislation that has passed through Congress does not exactly do this. The law will only close the loophole for those convicted of petty domestic violence crimes. It does not apply to restraining order laws.
What is the current situation at the state level?
Some states, such as Minnesota and West Virginia, have already extended domestic violence firearms restrictions to dating partners. Others, including Tennessee, did not. Fewer than half of the states have extended the domestic violence gun restriction to extend it to dating partners.
This has created a situation where safety from gun violence by an aggressive dating partner depends on the state you live in. Federal legislation would help create a more consistent picture across the country when it comes to partners who commit violence.
What will be the effect of closing the boyfriend loophole at the national level?
My research shows that federal firearm restrictions for those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors are associated with a reduction in intimate partner homicides committed with firearms.
Thus, it can be assumed that limiting access to guns to more dangerous intimate partners will lead to further reductions in violent relationship homicides with firearms. By the same token, closing the boyfriend loophole when it comes to banning gun ownership for those under the domestic violence ban would also likely save lives.