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Dream Partially Fulfilled, 'Boyfriend Loophole' Advocates Say

Years in the making, the federal legislation closing the "boyfriend loophole" in gun regulations has advocates hopeful about the new law's violence-prevention potential, but anxious to continue seeking more policy changes aimed at protecting domestic-violence victims, the Associated Press reports. Tough negotiations to include the provision in the gun legislation passed in June resulted in compromises that still leave gaps. “It will for sure save lives. But also to be clear, this is a partial closure of what’s known as the boyfriend loophole. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Jennifer Becker, the legal director and senior attorney for Legal Momentum, a legal defense and education fund for women.

The law's other provisions got more attention, such as tougher background checks for the youngest gun buyers and help for states to put in place “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged dangerous. But addressing the boyfriend loophole addressed a longtime hope of advocates. Federal law has had a longstanding ban on guns for people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order. But that restriction had only applied to an individual who is married to the victim, lived with the victim or had a child with the victim. As a result, it missed a whole group of perpetrators — current and former boyfriends or intimate partners — sometimes with fatal consequences. At least 19 states and the District of Columbia have taken action on this issue. The struggle over defining a boyfriend in the law remained difficult to the end. Negotiations in Congress nearly broke down over the provision. Federal crime data for 2020 showed that out of all murder victims among intimate partners — including divorced and gay couples — girlfriends accounted for 37 percent, while wives accounted for 34 percent. In 2018, a group of researchers who looked at intimate partner homicides in 45 states from 1980 to 2013 found that when firearm prohibitions linked to domestic restraining orders included people who were dating, deaths dropped by 13 percent. “It suggests that when you cast that wider net, by covering boyfriends, you are able to cover people who are more dangerous and potentially save more lives,” April Zeoli, a researcher at the University of Michigan who was part of that study, told the AP.


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