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Senate Gun Bill Allows Convicted Abusers to Get Their Gun Back After 5 Years

The bill has broad bipartisan support—in part because it doesn't fully close the "boyfriend loophole."

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Image: Anna Moneymaker / Staff (Getty Images)

The Senate revealed a crucial piece of gun control legislation this week. Among the main provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is an effort to close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows unmarried partners to hold onto their guns after they’ve been convicted of domestic violence. After years of activists’ campaigns to close the loophole, senators are finally set to do so—with a catch: After five years of good behavior, those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor will get their guns back.

The bill comes on the heels of high-profile mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 people dead in what has been described as a hate crime by federal prosecutors, and at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed by a teenage gunman. The bill was co-written by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); Krysten Sinema (D- Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). That the end of the “boyfriend loophole” will come with a loophole of its own is largely due to GOP senators unwillingness to limit firearm access.

Last week, Cornyn indicated to reporters that he was uneasy with solutions to the “boyfriend loophole” that he deems too broad, saying, “At some point, if we can’t get to 60 [Senate votes] then we’re going to have to pare … some of it down.”

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This is the first major piece of gun control legislation that has a shot at passing Congress in over a decade, so it’s unsurprising that it only chips away at certain problems. And while partially closing the loophole is certainly progress, the simple passage of time is little guarantee that an individual who abused their partner won’t do it again and in more violent ways. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, roughly 70 women are fatally shot by intimate partners every month. 

The new bill has already managed to get over a procedural hurdle with a 64-34 vote, suggesting it will likely clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold. The 14 Republicans who joined the Democrats include Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The legislation also provides funding for mental health initiatives and to enhance security at schools; makes it harder for 18- to 21-year-olds to buy guns; and encourages states to enact “red flag laws,” which gives law enforcement permission to confiscate firearms from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others.

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The bill could come to a vote in the Senate as soon as Friday—but if it doesn’t, the boyfriend loophole will remain open for at least two more weeks due to the Senate’s upcoming July Fourth recess.