Volume 55

Closing the Boyfriend Loophole: Proposals to Protect Dating Partners from Gun Violence

by Ryan Shymansky

Advocates have long argued for restrictions on gun ownership for convicted domestic violence offenders. The statistics suggest that the need for restrictions is more dire than ever. Between 2003 and 2014, nearly half of the 10,018 women murdered in the United States were killed by a current or former intimate partner. In these homicides, guns were the most frequently used murder-weapon. In homes where firearms are present, the risk of homicide for women rises by approximately 500%. More to the point, 70% of women killed by their partners have been physically abused by that person prior to their murder. 

In 1996, Congress took action and amended the 1968 Federal Gun Control Act to ban certain convicted domestic violence offenders from possessing firearms. This amendment, known as the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban or the Lautenberg Amendment, remains the most significant piece of federal legislation addressing the link between firearms and domestic violence, and has prevented over 100,000 perpetrators of domestic abuse from purchasing guns since its enactment.

Yet, a combination of factors has led to a resurgence in the debate over the adequacy of the Lautenberg Amendment, including the #MeToo movement’s renewed public focus on gender-based violence and several recent mass shootings committed by domestic violence offenders. Some of the most thoughtful proposals aim to expand the reach of the Lautenberg Amendment’s prohibition on gun ownership to dating partners instead of just spouses, co-habitants, and fellow parents. These proposals are driven by the recognition that “[d]angerous boyfriends can be just as scary as dangerous husbands,” and “they hit just as hard and they fire their guns with the same deadly force.” This is an important observation, and lays bare the need for further legislation to protect women in relationships with abusive dating partners from gun violence. 

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