VAWA 2021: Closing the Boyfriend Loophole

TW: Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, and Death

Yesterday, President Joe Biden addressed Congress and called for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA was passed in 1994 to create and support comprehensive, cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. It was the first comprehensive piece of legislation in the U.S. that was meant to fight violence against women.

VAWA has been reauthorized several times since its inception to continuously alter the provisions and hopefully improve the way it providers for survivors.

The 2021 reauthorization would include several new goals, including:

  • supporting communities of color by providing additional funding for culturally specific services 

  • providing justice avenues that focus on victim autonomy, agency, and safety

  • providing restorative justice practices and expanded legal services

  • restoring tribal jurisdiction allowing tribes to hold non-native perpetrators accountable for crimes committed on native land

  • promoting economic justice responses to help victims gain and maintain economic independence

  • improving the healthcare systems response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking

  • improve access to housing for survivors

  • closing dangerous legal loopholes

The major legal loophole in discussion is known as the "Boyfriend Loophole" - a gap in American firearm legislation that is meant to protect survivors of domestic violence. Federal law prohibits convicted abusive spouses from obtaining guns. These restrictions do not, however, apply to. convicted abusers who AREN'T married to their victim(s). 

This loophole is particularly dangerous because of the threat firearms pose to abuse victims in particular. Nearly half of all women killed in the United States are killed by a current or former dating partner. Women who are threatened or assaulted with a gun (or other weapon) are 20 times more likely to be murdered than those who are not. Access to a gun makes it 5 times more likely that an abusive partner will kill his female victim.

In the state of Florida, 56% of domestic violence related homicides in the state of Florida were committed with a firearm between 2006 and 2012. Florida has no law prohibiting individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition. Domestic violence battery is a first-degree misdemeanor in the state of Florida, leaving the door wide open to abusers to obtain firearms. 

What can we do to fix this? One step is the implementation of universal background checks - 1 in 9 background check denials in the state of Florida are connected to domestic abuse. Florida law allows the private sale and trade of firearms without the background checks that regulate sales by licensed firearms dealers. About 80% of guns bought with the intent of criminal activity are purchased through private sale without the restriction of background checks. Background checks just make sense, and despite what those in opposition might claim, they do not infringe on the 2nd Amendment rights of American citizens, nor do they take firearms from the hands of law abiding citizens. Background checks can go a long way to ending gun related domestic violence deaths. 

Imposing stricter punishment for domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking can also go a long way to bringing the law up to meet the punishment. Likewise, broadening the federal limits on domestic abuser access to firearms can close the loophole - misdemeanor counts of stalking and domestic violence are as serious as felonies. Abusers should not be able to gain possession of firearms.

It is critical that the Boyfriend Loophole is closed to protect survivors - there is no reason the law should apply differently to abusers based on their marital status of the victim. Gun violence in the United States as it relates to domestic violence needs to be addressed and now is the time.