What is the boyfriend loophole in gun legislation talks?

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As a bipartisan group of senators translates a nine-point gun deal into legislative text, debates have arisen over closing the so-called boyfriend loophole.

Existing federal law prevents individuals from purchasing firearms if they are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and have been married to, lived with or have a child with the victim.

But that existing legislation does not ban firearm purchases for abusers in other romantic or intimate relationships, a gap commonly known as the boyfriend loophole.

Many experts say that loophole — which has become a focus of the gun negotiations spurred by recent high-profile mass shootings — is contributing to the country’s high levels of gun violence.

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that more than half of homicides with female victims for which circumstances were known are related to intimate partner violence.

Abusers with access to firearms are five times as likely to kill their female partners, according to a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study also found that among women killed by their male partners, the majority were previously physically abused by those partners.

A study published in Preventative Medicine in 2018 found that about half of intimate partner homicides are perpetrated by an unmarried partner.

Some states have moved to close the loophole in their jurisdictions.

Nineteen states have laws that directly close the loophole, while 11 other states have policies that prohibit firearm purchases for convicted domestic abusers but do not explicitly cover dating partners, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

The bipartisan group of senators earlier this month agreed in principle to expand federal restrictions to romantic and intimate partners, but negotiations have hit a snag.

“We’re still continuing to work on it, there are still some fine points when you get to the drafting,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said on Thursday.

Tillis said some of the holdup was tied to the definition of an intimate or romantic partner, adding that negotiators were “pretty close” to resolving that issue.

But negotiators also haven’t agreed on whether to implement a restitution process that would allow current and former dating partners to regain their gun ownership rights after a period of time.

“There are some people, not in the negotiations, but other members that feel like if you’re establishing a restoration process in connection with the boyfriend loophole, why would you [not] consider it for others?” Tillis said.

The standoff in part caused negotiators to miss their goal of finalizing an agreement by this past Thursday, but debate has also continued over a separate provision to send money to states to set up red flag laws or other intervention measures.

That timeline would have given Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) a chance to schedule it for a vote this week. The Senate returns on Tuesday, and Schumer has said he will bring a bill to the floor as soon as it is finalized.

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