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Closing The 'Boyfriend Loophole' Could Prevent Domestic Violence Deaths. Congress Hasn't Acted.

"Red Women" statues in front of the Texas Capitol in 2006, representing women who have died from domestic violence. The statues were a project of the Texas Conference on Family Violence.
Matthew C. Wright/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
"Red Women" statues in front of the Texas Capitol in 2006, representing women who have died from domestic violence. The statues were a project of the Texas Conference on Family Violence.

From Texas Standard:

The recent death of a Houston police officer reignited an aspect of the gun control debate that intersects with domestic violence.

Sgt. Christopher Brewster was shot and killed when he responded to a call about a man who reportedly had assaulted his girlfriend. Brewster’s boss, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, blamed top Republican Texas lawmakers in Congress for the officer's death, saying it could have been prevented had Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act and closed the so-called boyfriend loophole.

Natalie Nanasi is director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women at Southern Methodist University. She says the concept of the boyfriend loophole has been around for awhile. It’s based on the idea that people don’t have the same legal protections against an abusive partner if that person isn’t their spouse, live-in partner or co-parent of their child.

“There are certain categories of people who have perpetrated domestic violence who are prohibited from possessing a firearm,” Nanasi says.

But boyfriends – and girlfriends – aren’t part of those categories.

Nanasi says defining what a “boyfriend” is is up to the courts.

“You decide it the same way that you would prove whether somebody is living with somebody else,” she says. “Sometimes that isn’t always so clear cut; there are shades of gray.”

Nanasi says that closing the loophole would help reduce domestic violence deaths, and that studies show that violence looks the same whether someone is married, divorced or dating.

“Half of the women that are murdered here in this country are murdered by their intimate partners,” she says.

Congress has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act three times since it was enacted in 1994. But only recently has it been controversial. That’s because the National Rifle Association has argued that the loophole could limit gun rights. She says that’s partly why Congress has stalled on re-authorizing the Act this year.

“The gun rights provisions have definitely made it much more difficult to get bipartisan support like it has gotten in the past,” Nanasi says.

Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn responded to Chief Acevedo's critique about Congress and the Violence Against Women Act in emails to Texas Standard:“All of Texas is mourning Sgt. Brewster, grieving with his family, and celebrating his heroic service keeping us safe. It's unfortunate the chief of police in Houston seems more focused on trying to advance his own political ambitions than on supporting the brave men and women of HPD. The fact is that this killer was a criminal whom federal law already prohibited from having a gun. Instead of playing politics with tragedy, Congress should take up and pass the Grassley-Cruz legislation, which has bipartisan support, to strengthen the background check system, put violent felons in jail, and get guns out of the hands of criminals.”

– Ted Cruz

“[Acevedo] has my telephone number and if he had bothered to call me, I would have told him that he and I agree that convicted domestic abusers should not be able to own a gun…. I think the Chief just simply was mistaken on this issue because the gunman was already prohibited under Texas law from owning or possessing a firearm."

– John Cornyn

Written by Caroline Covington.

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