By Alanna Vaglanos
Democratic lawmakers are renewing their push for a bill that would prevent convicted stalkers and abusers from buying or owning guns, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that leaves many victims of domestic abuse vulnerable to further violence from current or former partners.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act on Tuesday morning, shared first with HuffPost.
“As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the serious emotional and physical toll domestic violence and stalking can take on victims, and I know that many fear not only for their own lives but also the safety of their loved ones,” Klobuchar said in a press statement, adding that this is “a common sense step that will save lives.”
The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act aims to end what is commonly referred to as the “boyfriend loophole,” which historically has allowed convicted domestic abusers to buy or own firearms. Research shows that access to a gun makes it five times more likely that an abusive partner will kill his female victim. Nearly half of all women killed in the U.S. are murdered by a current or former intimate partner, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. And 76% of women who were murdered by intimate partners were first stalked by that partner.
“No person should live in fear of a stalker or abuser with easy access to deadly weapons,” Dingell said in a statement. “Stalking and domestic violence are two of the greatest predictors of future violence, and ignoring those warning signs will lead to preventable murders and deaths.”
The legislation has 37 co-sponsors in the Senate and a bipartisan companion bill in the House, led by Dingell and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
Also on Tuesday, members of Congress reintroduced the Bipartisan Background Checks Act in the House and the Background Checks Expansion Act in the Senate. Both bills ensure background check procedures are followed for all gun sales, including sales for unlicensed firearm dealers. While gun control measures were doomed under Trump and Republican control of the Senate, advocates are hopeful that Democratic control of the White House and Congress could lead to passage.
“I promised I would take that sense of protection, that love a mother has for her son, and use it for my community. That I would dedicate my life for families like mine in Marietta, Georgia, who are terrified that they will send their kids to school and never see them come home. Terrified that they will one day be me,” said Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), co-sponsor of the House bill and vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force who lost her son, Jordan Davis, to gun violence. “Today, we once again take an historic step to protect our children, to protect our communities, and to save American lives.”
The “boyfriend loophole” bill is especially timely given that intimate partner violence often increases during emergency situations like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic violence increased in frequency and intensity after crises like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Experts say this is likely because abusers have more contact with their families during these times and, as support systems break down in the wake of emergencies, victims are less likely or less able to seek help.
With many schools and workplaces going remote due to the pandemic, millions of Americans were forced to shelter in place with their abusers ? leaving them isolated with little help from the outside world. Experts saw an uptick in child abuse and domestic violence reports when shelter-in-place orders were initially implemented last year.
Klobuchar and other lawmakers previously called on the Trump administration to ensure that domestic violence and sexual assault survivors are not forgotten during the pandemic. Klobuchar, along with a group of two dozen bipartisan senators, have continued to demand more resources and funding for victims of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and family violence as the coronavirus outbreak spreads around the U.S.
“Perpetrators of domestic abuse use guns as a way to intimidate women and families and trap them in desperate situations,” former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), an advocate for stricter gun safety measures, said in a statement. “This past year, as households were forced to shelter in place, the problem became worse as we saw an explosion in violence, too often connected to a gun. It’s time to better protect victims of domestic violence and save lives by passing this legislation.”