Closing ‘Boyfriend Loophole’ A Goal Of Senate Gun Bill Agreement

Photo: Flickr, Mark Fischer

After a mass shooting at an elementary school and a domestic-violence double homicide in Ames, some US senators have put together a set of new firearms rules they think might be able to get enough Republicans on board to pass into law.

A group of 20 senators—10 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent—announced initial agreements Sunday surrounding ways to combat gun violence and domestic terrorism.

The chief negotiators of the deal were Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Sen. Jon Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

“We are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” Murphy, Cornyn and other senators involved in the talks said in a joint statement. “Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.”

Though it’s not an official bill yet, that framework includes:

  • Support to states and tribes to keep guns out of the hands of people a judge has deemed dangerous, “consistent with state and federal due process and constitutional protections;”
  • “Major investments” in mental health, crisis intervention and suicide prevention, including telehealth;
  • Adding those convicted of domestic abuse, as well as those with restraining orders connected to domestic abuse, to the federal background check system, eliminating the so-called “boyfriend loophole;”
  • Expanding mental health services and “school violence prevention efforts;”
  • Added penalties for those who “illegally evade licensing requirements” and those who make straw purchases and traffic guns;
  • Those under 21 would go through an additional review of “juvenile and mental health records.”

Iowa’s two senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans, were not among the senators in the negotiation, though Grassley didn’t discount the proposal right away.

“I’m encouraged to see the bipartisan group of senators making headway on the important issues of mental health, school safety and curtailing gun violence,” he told Iowa Starting Line. “As always, I need to see legislative text, which has yet to be written, before making a final decision on how I’d vote.”

He said he preferred bipartisan legislation he was sponsoring, the EAGLES Act, which would increase the role of the Secret Service in preventing school shootings.

A message seeking comment from Ernst’s staff on her response to the framework was not immediately returned. Ernst’s opposition to closing the “boyfriend loophole” held up the entire Violence Against Women Act for two years. When the reauthorization finally passed, the gun safety measure was still missing from it.

The bill comes on the heels of a divided House bill on gun control that many thought did not have a chance to reach 60 votes in the Senate. But the framework was negotiated by 10 Republicans, which indicates their version may reach that 60-vote, filibuster-proof threshold.

Two provisions might have had an impact in the Ames shooting or, at the very least, in situations similar to it. Closing the boyfriend loophole can prohibit domestic abusers from owning a gun, even if they do not live in the same home as their partner. The provision allows for a judge to deem someone dangerous, which would have potentially removed all firearms from the shooter’s possession.

So-called “red flag” laws such as that are something gun violence experts say are an important way to prevent domestic-violence homicides.


By Amie Rivers

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