By Virginia Chamlee
"A big victory." That's how Sen. Amy Klobuchar describes one of the provisions included in a piece of bipartisan, anti-gun violence legislation announced this week: a measure that supporters say will protect victims of domestic violence by doing away with the so-called "boyfriend loophole."
The loophole refers to a gap in federal law, which prohibits some people convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a gun, but only applies to those who live with, are married to or have a child with their partner. In other words, boyfriends convicted of domestic violence can still legally purchase a gun in many states.
The gap has been top-of-mind for Klobuchar, a Democrat, for more than a decade.
"You've got a woman shot to death by an intimate partner every 14 hours. That's 600 women shot to death every year," she tells PEOPLE. "Yet there was this huge loophole in the law which allowed the boyfriends to be actually convicted with Misdemeanor Domestic Assault. It made no sense."
Klobuchar, 62, says she's spent the past 10 years working to close that loop, but acknowledges there have "been many ups and downs," in the journey.
She first introduced the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act in 2013 with only one cosponsor. Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell introduced a companion bill in the House in 2015, and the two lawmakers worked together to build momentum on the issue at hand. When that failed to gain traction, Klobuchar didn't stop, reintroducing the bill in every Congress.
Now, there's now hope on the horizon.
On Tuesday night, a bipartisan group of senators announced they had advanced the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that, among other things, expands current law so that those in "serious dating relationships" who are convicted of domestic abuse would be prevented from purchasing a gun.
On Thursday, the Senate passed the bill.
The legislation includes language allowing those convicted of non-spousal misdemeanor domestic abuse to have their gun ownership rights restored — assuming they maintain a clean record — after five years.
"This is such a big victory," Klobuchar says. "[Domestic abuse] doesn't just hurt the individual victim — it impacts the kids, the families, the community."
And it extends well beyond the confines of marriage, Klobuchar notes, citing a Department of Justice statistic that nearly half of all women killed by intimate partners are victims of a dating partner.
Klobuchar acknowledges that domestic abuse is so common, however, it doesn't often elicit the same demand for action as other types of gun violence, like mass shootings.
"The mass shootings get attention and they should," she says. "But at the same time, you have 600 victims every year [of domestic violence shootings]. I think that there is a growing recognition that these are not just odd cases. These can't be swept under the rug."
Mass shootings also often have a domestic violence component, with the non-partisan group Everytown for Gun Safety noting that "in more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage."
Klobuchar says that, for decades, lawmakers were wary of wading into issues of domestic violence. But that changed with more spotlight on the issues and growing public demand for action.
Some states — including Klobuchar's home state of Minnesota — closed the loophole. Federal law wasn't so quick to catch up.
"The states that have closed the loophole have seen a 13% reduction in intimate partner violence," Klobuchar notes.
The legislation passed by the Senate Thursday — the first bipartisan gun safety package in 30 years — does face hurdles in the House, including opposition from some Republicans.
And while it would be the most sweeping piece of gun safety legislation passed in decades, some say it still falls short by not banning assault weapons or placing restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"The number one thing is the Senate has to get [the bipartisan legislation] done this week, and then it needs to go to the House and get signed into law," Klobuchar says, acknowledging that "there's a lot more work to be done that I've long supported."
In other words, this could be a first step, she says.
"There's some really good things in this legislation, but I want to do more," Klobuchar says. "With the public, there's huge support, especially for things like raising the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, [strengthening] background checks .... This is only the beginning."
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