What is the 'boyfriend loophole' in the bipartisan gun deal announced by senators?

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WASHINGTON – In response to mass shootings, a bipartisan group of senators tentatively reached a deal on a gun bill that would expand "red flag" laws, spend more on mental health and close the "boyfriend loophole" that allows some domestic abusers to buy firearms.

Gun control activists have tried to close the loophole for years, but like most gun legislation, the efforts fizzled out. After massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, as well as other mass shootings, there is fresh momentum for gun control, including ensuring that all domestic abusers are barred from acquiring guns.

The senators' deal got a huge boost Tuesday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has been a staunch supporter of gun rights, announced he would support the bipartisan "framework" of the gun package.

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What is the boyfriend loophole?

Under federal law, all felons are prohibited from owning firearms. People who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse against a spouse, ex-spouse, co-parent or someone the victim has lived with are also prohibited. That leaves women dating – but not living with – an abuser vulnerable to danger under what critics call the "boyfriend loophole."

Gun control activists say women are at risk from threatening partners and boyfriends-turned-stalkers who have violent pasts.

Brady, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent gun violence, reported that about "every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner." In 2018, there were 653 gun-related domestic violence deaths nationwide, according to Brady.

What are the laws for background checks?

Licensed firearm merchants must obtain background checks on buyers, which are aimed at keeping guns away from domestic abusers and other criminals who are banned by law from having firearms, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

When an individual buys a gun from a federally licensed dealer, the seller must request a check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling the weapon. The buyer shares personal information, such as name and date of birth, that is used to search for records that would prohibit the gun sale, per the GAO.

How long can the FBI take to conduct a thorough background check?

The FBI has three days to conduct a background check, but some take more time.

If the background check is not finished after three days, the dealer can sell the gun while the FBI continues its investigation, the GAO says.

From 2006 to 2015, licensed dealers sold about 6,200 guns to people with domestic violence convictions and approximately 550 guns to people with a protection order related to domestic violence, according to the GAO.

What happens if the customer has a record?

If the FBI sees that the buyer is prohibited from owning a gun, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can confiscate guns sold to the customer, according to the GAO.

The restrictions apply to domestic abusers if they have been married to, lived with or have a child with the victim – not for dating partners, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

"This gap in the law is known as the 'boyfriend loophole' and has become increasingly deadly," according to the gun control group. "The share of homicides committed by dating partners has been increasing for three decades, and now women are as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses."

When did the issue arise?

The move to close the loophole surfaced in the aftermath of the 1992 elections in which a record number of women were elected to Congress after the galvanizing testimony of Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Activists tried to close the loophole as part of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 but were unsuccessful.

More: Bipartisan group of senators announces deal on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

Subsequent efforts to add the language in VAWA reauthorizations failed because of opposition from the gun lobby, including one this year that President Joe Biden signed into law.

What happens next?

The Senate has a framework for changing gun regulations, but the language of the bill needs to be written, introduced and voted on. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., lead the effort.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks about gun violence during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks about gun violence during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Republican leader McConnell has been closely allied with the National Rifle Association, so his support for the framework, including closing the loophole, is significant.

Contributing: Dylan Wells, Maureen Groppe, David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boyfriend loophole: Bipartisan gun deal would impact domestic abusers