When we think about gun violence, our minds automatically go to the horrific mass shootings in Buffalo, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Uvalde and countless other locations. But, as it turns out, a man killing his estranged partner more accurately represents the country's current crisis. The CDC has found that more than half of all female homicides in the U.S. between 2003 and 2014 have been related to domestic violence and that the most common weapon used is a gun.

I genuinely applaud the work currently underway, spearheaded by senators Chris Murphy and John Cornyn including provisions for enhanced background checks for prospective gun purchasers under the age of 21; allowing for law enforcement to examine juvenile and mental health records; federal money for states with red flag laws allowing authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed to be dangerous; toughening of laws to stop gun trafficking; and federal money to shore up mental health resources in communities and schools, as well as for school security. However, I sincerely hope that a measure aimed at correcting the "boyfriend loophole" will make it over the finish line.

Under federal law, anyone who is convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or who is subject to a final protective order is prohibited from owning or purchasing guns. This ban, however, only applies to spouses—those who share a child—and co-habitants, not dating partners. Closing this "boyfriend loophole" would make a real difference.

Some of the most thoughtful proposals aim to expand the reach of the Lautenberg Amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act to dating partners instead of just spouses, co-habitants, and fellow parents, 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."

Disagreement over the boyfriend loophole was at the center of a debate around the 1994 Violence against Women Act, and for years as other improvements were made, carve-outs for dating partners remained. The National Rifle Association has fought against attempts to close that loophole during reauthorization debates in 1996 and 2018. The time has come finally to address this issue.

The presence of guns in domestic violence situations has been well documented and is far more common that people think. Based on an analysis of data from the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Reports for the years 1990 to 2016, one professor found that nearly one in three homicides in the U.S. are domestic homicides and one in six specifically involve the killing of an intimate partner.

Introducing firearms into domestic conflicts absolutely enhances the risk that an intimate partner will be killed. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun. Research from Susan B. Sorenson, professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that about half the intimate partner homicides in the United States are perpetrated by an unmarried partner.

"Marriage and dating patterns have changed substantially such that fewer people meet the criteria set out by Congress in the 1990s," Sorensen said. "Closing the 'boyfriend loophole' keeps the focus where it belongs — on the bad behavior rather than on the nature of the relationship between the two parties." Abuse by those who use guns against their partners outside the existing narrow categories is an immense problem largely ignored when it comes to the issue of gun violence, she added. "Closing this loophole will make women safer."

There was a time, decades ago, when domestic homicides were overwhelmingly committed by spouses, but that is no longer true. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, such killings are actually now more commonly committed by non-married partners. Additionally, stalking is a crime often perpetrated by boyfriends and therefore will not automatically lead to a federal prohibition on buying a gun. According to the National Institute of Justice, fully 90 percent of victims of murder or attempted murder by a partner had previously been stalked.

Plugging this hole will also make others safer because it is not uncommon for the death toll to include people other than the targeted victim, such as friends, neighbors, bystanders and police officers. In fact, another study indicates that in at least 53 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2020 (defined as any incident in which four or more people are shot and killed, excluding the shooter), the perpetrator shot an intimate partner or family member during their attack.

In another study, it was determined that in 68 percent of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019, the shooter either murdered a family member or a dating partner or had a history of domestic violence. An earlier study found a link to domestic or family violence in more than half of mass shootings from 2009-2016—and in thousands more cases that don't make international headlines—revealing an increased likelihood that a woman will be killed. A woman doesn't have to have been married to an abuser, have a child with him or live with him for her life to be at risk. All it takes is a gun.

Closing this loophole will not totally address the problem faced by the millions of women in the United States who have been threatened by a romantic partner with a gun, pistol-whipped, shot at, or actually shot by their partners. And it certainly has its caveats, addressing only those who have been convicted, not those whose domestic violence cases do not reach that stage.

Moreover, if there are not universal background checks, the abusive partners will still be able to visit a gun show or arrange a private sale, in which their prior convictions would not prevent obtaining a gun. But as Voltaire pointed out, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Copyright 2022. ALM Global, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Originally published here.

Originally published by the Connecticut Law Tribune | Articles

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