'Boyfriend Loophole' Hangs Up Gun Deal

Senate negotiators at impasse on defining who should be barred from owning a gun
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2022 11:03 AM CDT
Definition of 'Boyfriend' Stalls Deal on Gun Laws
File photo of a row of rifles for sale at a gun shop in Aurora, Colo.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(Newser) – A group of senators is trying to hammer out the final details of legislation on gun safety, and one particular issue has emerged as a major snag: It revolves around the definition of the term "boyfriend". Coverage:

  • The loophole: Under current federal law, anyone convicted of domestic violence against a spouse or former spouse, a live-in partner, or a co-parent cannot own a gun, per USA Today. But the law doesn't cover dating partners, which has come to be known as the "boyfriend loophole."
  • The snag: The framework of a gun deal that emerged last week in the Senate promised to close this loophole, but negotiators are hung up on the semantics of what constitutes a boyfriend or dating partner. As the New York Times explains: "Is it one date or several? Could an ex-boyfriend count?" Generally speaking, Democrats want to make the definition as broad as possible, Republicans the opposite.

  • Deadly serious: While it may sound frivolous, the loophole is anything but, points out Abigail Higgins in the Washington Post. She cites federals stats showing that murders committed by dating partners as compared to spouses are about equal. "I believe that closing this particular loophole may be the single most important and beneficial part of the overall package," says SUNY Cortland professor Robert J. Spitzer, an expert on gun policy.
  • Impasse: The four senators struggling to hash out a deal are Democrats Chris Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema and Republicans John Cornyn and Thom Tillis, per NBC News. Murphy, citing state laws already on the books, maintains that "there's pretty well-developed law around what a dating partner is already," and "the definition is there for the taking." But it's apparently not that simple, because a GOP source tells the outlet that "either the Democrats accept what the Republicans are asking for on [the] boyfriend loophole, or it will be dropped entirely." Another anonymous GOP aide says that it's "clear after today's meeting that we are at the end of the rope on this." The details weren't specified.
  • Now what? More talks. Senators hoped to translate last week's framework into legislation that could be voted on next week, but that's looking unlikely, reports the AP. "This is the hardest part because at some point, you just got to make a decision," said GOP Sen. John Cornyn. "And when people don't want to make a decision, you can't accomplish the result. And that's kind of where we are right now." He added, "I'm not frustrated, I'm done." But Democrat Murphy sounded more optimistic: "A deal like this is difficult," he said. "But we're close enough that we should be able to get there."
(Read more gun safety stories.)

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