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Home / Articles / Your Voice / Domestic Violence and Gaps in Federal Gun Law

Domestic Violence and Gaps in Federal Gun Law

The "boyfriend loophole" is getting women killed

Domestic Violence and Gaps in Federal Gun Law

Jasmine Gaytan was killed when she was only 20 years old. Her boyfriend fired the bullets and carried her to the hospital covered in blood. He later pled guilty to second-degree murder. At the time of the incident, they had been together for over eight years.

Unfortunately, Jasmine’s story is just one out of too many. According to reports, 4.5 million women have had their intimate partner threaten them with a gun and 1 million women have been shot by their partner[1].

It is crucial to recognize the strong relationship between gun violence and domestic abuse. Domestic assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death. Statistics are clear: domestic abusers who possess guns pose a much greater threat to the household. In a survey of global experts, the United States was found to be one of the most dangerous countries for women who are victims of domestic violence.

Legal Loopholes

In 1996, U.S. Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment which amends the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 by banning individuals convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to own a gun. However, the law only placed restrictions on current or former spouses and parents or guardians even though individuals killed by a dating partner make up almost half of partner homicides — in short, this federal law does not apply to dating partners. Gun ownership of abusers in non-cohabiting relationships is not restricted and current law leaves their partners vulnerable. Activists call this the “boyfriend loophole.”

Moreover, federal laws in place do not apply to any other family member other than the spouse or children. They fail to address violence against siblings, parents or any abused relatives. It is important to bring attention to this issue since the percentage of family homicides that involve murder of a parent has been steadily increasing from 9.7 percent of all family homicides in 1980 to 13 percent in 2008.

On the other hand, current federal law places no restrictions on convicted stalkers and other individuals with protective orders. All states made stalking a crime but specific definitions and elements of these laws vary. There are significant numbers of individuals convicted of misdemeanor-level stalking crimes each year who remain free to buy and possess firearms. For example, between 2003 and 2012, 3,105 individuals were convicted of stalking in Georgia alone. However, only nine out of all 50 states prevent those with misdemeanor stalking convictions from owning guns. Georgia is not one of them.

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Another loophole is ensuring that prohibited abusers surrender their firearms. According to research published on intimate partner violence-related firearm laws and homicide rates, federal laws need to go beyond prohibiting firearm possession by abusers to sufficiently decrease homicide rates. The failure to disarm domestic abusers leads to horrible consequences. In Washington D.C., at least five women were shot and killed by their partners less than a month after obtaining protection orders. Abusers continue to threaten, manipulate and harm their victims or continue to commit other crimes with a previously owned gun.

Weak Spots of Implementation

In addition to the gaps in federal law, there are certain factors that continue to weaken the implementation of existing laws. First, not all states report all prohibited abusers. Most states fail to enter persons with domestic violence protective orders into the database. As a result, background checks do not properly prevent them from obtaining guns.

Next, federal background check laws further weaken the system by not requiring background checks to be performed by private gun sellers. In October 2012 in Wisconsin, Radcliffe Haughton opened fire, killing his wife and two other women. Haughton was prohibited from gun possession but he was able to purchase a gun from a private seller on the Internet. Another devastating event took place in Illinois. Dmitry Smirnov shot and killed his former girlfriend in a parking lot after stalking her for a week. Smirnov was prohibited from buying a gun but was able to purchase a gun through a private transaction with an individual who was not required to conduct a background check. While 1 in 7 gun buyers stopped by a federal background check is a domestic abuser, this loophole unintentionally creates room for domestic abusers to illegally obtain firearms through private sales. Nineteen states go further to require checks on all handgun sales, but in all other states victims of domestic violence still live in fear of getting shot.

Call to Action

Since the Lautenberg Amendment, Congress worked on passing a number of bills on gun control. Just counting the ones after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, more than 100 proposals have failed. Twenty-four out of the 100 made it to the floor, but facing opposition from NRA, none passed into law. Proposed bills included improving background checks, introducing universal background checks, penalizing political appointees at federal agencies if they fail to report abuse to the database and aimed to close loopholes. Contact legislators and lawmakers in your community and urge them to enact protection laws to save more lives.

If you want to take part in overcoming these loopholes further, become a part of Everytown for Gun Safety and IANSA. You can support by attending events, donating, and raising awareness in your community around the issue. Everytown has been advocating for a legislative agenda that includes more background checks for potential gun owners, laws that would keep guns away from domestic abusers, and better gun-trafficking laws.

The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) is a global movement against gun violence. It has a Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC at the United Nations and is the current official UN coordinator of civil society participation in UN meetings on small arms. To learn more about how to disarm domestic violence, visit their website and get involved.

Neda Yildirim recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from SUNY University at Buffalo. She currently works as a legal assistant at a law firm in New York City. Prior to her current position, Neda worked with NVI New York as a Research Analyst. She advocated for active nonviolence through a number of campaigns. She is interested in researching immigration policies in the United States, equal rights for women and discriminatory laws that fail to protect people from all means of violence. Neda is available for legal research and writing projects, as well as creating web content. You can reach her at A version of this piece was originally published on Medium.

[1] Sorenson, Susan B., and Rebecca A. Schut. “Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 4 (October 2018): 431–42. doi:10.1177/1524838016668589.