"Boyfriend Loophole" Rhetoric Nothing More Than Rights Grab

Domestic violence is one of those things that absolutely no one supports. You’d be hardpressed to find anyone seriously advocating for domestic violence. Sure, some people may joke about it–and whether that’s right or wrong is a completely different debate–but no one actually supports it.

So, one would think that the Violence Against Women Act would get universal support, but it doesn’t. In fact, I can’t support it.

Why? Because it’s not about protecting women anymore. Now it’s about expanding the list of crimes that can disqualify someone from owning a firearm.

And for some, they can’t see why that’s a bad thing.

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is one of a handful of women in Congress to have disclosed their status as a survivor of domestic abuse. In interviews last year, she told reporters that her ex-husband beat and choked her, and that she was raped in college. She hopes that “people will view my work in those areas not as a senator that is working to support them,” she told the CNN affiliate KCCI, “but now as somebody who has been in that situation that will be supporting them.”

But months later, Ernst, a Republican, held up a vote on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, major legislation that created the National Domestic Violence Hotline, funds women’s shelters and research on gender-based violence, and which has languished in the Senate since it passed the House last year. The sticking point, she said, was a gun-control provision that the House attached to the bill. If passed, it would have closed the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which would prevent individuals subject to a restraining order or those who had been convicted of abusing a domestic partner from buying guns. Ernst later introduced her own counter-proposal which stripped VAWA of any gun control provisions.

Ernst’s maneuvering outraged survivors and advocates alike, who say the loophole puts women at risk. The rate of murders committed by domestic partners has risen significantly, according to a Northeastern University study released in 2019, and most victims are women. A researcher told HuffPost that the increase was driven primarily by gun violence. Closing the loophole, experts say, would save lives, by ensuring the law covers all abusers, not just those who have lived with or been married to their victims.

The article, titled, “Domestic Violence Survivors Want Legal Protections, Not Platitudes,” argues that closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” is the precise protection domestic violence survivors need.

Except, that’s not really true.

You see, the problem I have with this effort to expand the list of crimes that bar someone from owning a gun legally is that it doesn’t actually have nearly the impact proponents think. A truly dangerous person intent on killing the woman in question doesn’t actually need a gun. A knife is easy to get and completely unrestricted. The same is true of a hammer. Frankly, the average man can murder the average woman with his bare hands easily enough.

These measures don’t even touch on how to prevent any of those murders and don’t tell me they don’t happen.

Additionally, what rises to the level of violence is often far less than people think. For example, just grabbing an arm as someone tries to walk away during an argument can constitute assault. Does someone doing such a thing automatically mean they can’t be trusted with responsibly exercising their rights?

Of course not.

Here’s the thing, though. There are dangerous people out there. We all know it.

However, if all of these domestic abusers are that much of a threat, then why isn’t anyone trying to raise these crimes to the level of a felony? After all, felons are already barred from owning guns. Plus, if these individuals represent that significant of a threat, why on Earth should we settle for misdemeanor punishments for their crimes?

The fact that hasn’t been on the table is telling.

The “boyfriend loophole” isn’t about keeping women safe. It’s about expanding gun control. Nothing else.

Don’t be fooled.