The law, co-authored in 1994 by then-Sen. Joe Biden and last reauthorized in 2013, was designed
to protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking through a wide array of programs
, from creating a national domestic violence hotline to funding shelters for women to providing training on gender-based violence. The law, which has been re-authorized various times to update and expand protections
over the years, expired in 2019 after the GOP controlled Senate at the time refused to consider the measure but Congress still appropriated temporary funding
for the programs/grants under the purview of the VAWA. The need for this law to be reauthorized is even more acute today given the alarming uptick
in domestic violence cases during Covid-19-related closures.
Still, only 29 House Republicans voted with Democrats to continue this national program to reduce violence against women. I won’t be so glib as to say that these 172 House Republicans don’t care about women, especially since some of those voting no included women
like Rep. Liz Cheney.
So why would they vote against the legislation, despite a 2019 study
finding that women in the United States are being killed by “intimate partners” (husbands, boyfriends, or exes) at a gruesome rate of nearly four a day — up from the three that had been the daily death toll for decades before. (Yes, four women are killed daily.)
One key reason is that they agree with the National Rifle Association’s opposition to a proposed provision in the law that would close what is known as the “boyfriend loophole
.” Pursuant to a federal law enacted in 1996
— unrelated to the VAWA — those convicted of domestic violence against a current or former spouse are prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm.
The new VAWA measure would extend that prohibition to “boyfriends” who have been convicted of stalking, assaulting a dating partner or who had a restraining order issued against them for their actions regarding their girlfriend or ex. Given that FBI data indicates that a boyfriend is nearly as likely
as a husband to kill an intimate partner, closing this loophole could save lives.
Some House Republicans said they opposed the bill because it extended protections to transgender Americans who have been abused by intimate partners
. Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko said the law pushed “leftist gender ideology” by requiring shelters to house men along with vulnerable women.
While it’s beyond words that these Republicans would turn their back on vulnerable people in need, it was ending the “boyfriend loophole” that caused the greatest pushback. GOP Rep. Bob Good of Virginia stated
that the proposed version of the VAWA “makes it clear that Democrats consider gun ownership a second-class right.” And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia wants more, not fewer guns in our nation, stating
, “If you want to protect women, make sure women are gun owners and know how to defend themselves. That’s the greatest defense for women.”
But think for a moment about the real-world scenario of the “boyfriend loophole.” If a man who has been convicted of stalking his girlfriend suddenly wants to purchase his first firearm, should that be allowed? This is especially true considering data that directly links firearms with deadly instances of domestic violence.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations can increase the risk of homicide for women
as much as 500%. In addition, abusers with firearms are five times
more likely to kill their victims given the easy access to a deadly weapon. In fact, a 2019 study published
in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found women killed by intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than by all other means combined.
Closing the “boyfriend loophole” would not only save the lives of woman, but also of others, including police officers. That was the very point
made in 2019 by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo after a Houston police officer was shot and killed when responding to a domestic violence incident by a man who had previously been convicted of violence against his girlfriend. If the loophole had been closed when House Democrats first pushed to end it, the boyfriend would not have legally been able to purchase a gun.
While the Atlanta shooting rightly commands the headlines, our nation has a daily epidemic of violence against women. Closing the boyfriend loophole should not have been partisan, but rather a measure that Republicans and Democrats took in unison.
Instead, 172 Republicans chose ensuring that a man — even one convicted of stalking or assault — can buy a gun over protecting women from gun violence. What more will it take for these Republicans to put the safety of women first?