Despite two attempts from Republican lawmakers to send the bill back to committee, Oregon Democrats on Thursday passed the first gun control measure since the deadly shooting at a Florida High School—and advocates say the measure is a huge step forward for single women.
The legislation, which passed 16-13, is designed to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” a gap in the law that women’s advocacy groups have been trying to close for more than two decades. The legal blind spot, created by lax wording, allows unmarried men who live alone to slip through a federal law preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns.
“What the boyfriend loophole means is that someone who is convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence who only dated their victim, never lived with or had a child together, is legally able to continue to purchase and possess guns,” April Zeoli, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, told Newsweek.
The loophole stems from the 1996 federal law referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment, which prohibits people convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from owning a firearm. The law also makes it illegal to knowingly sell or give a gun to a person who meets that criteria, but limitations abound.
“Practically speaking, if you have two people who committed the same act of violence against their intimate partners and were both convicted, but one was married to their victim and the other had been dating their victim, only the one who was married would be prohibited from having access to guns,” Zeoli said.
As written, Oregon’s bill expands the prohibitions to include stalkers and people under a restraining order. Although it was on the agenda prior to the February 14 shooting at a Florida high school, Governor Kate Brown credited the groundswell of recent activism with helping it pass through the legislative chambers.
“Sadly, what’s different this time, is it took the voices and outrage of youth devastated by gun violence to hold decision makers’ feet to the fire,” she said.
The bill seeks to protect victims of all genders but advocacy groups said its passage is an especially important step to protect single women living in the U.S. A nationwide study from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed more than 31,000 police reports and found that about 82 percent of intimate partner violence incidents included current or former dating partners, while less than 15 percent involved spouses. A majority of the victims in those cases were women, a statistical trend that is consistent across the U.S.
“More people in Oregon are killed by domestic abusers with guns than with all other weapons combined,” Andrea Platt, a Moms Demand Action volunteer in Oregon, told Newsweek. “So closing the boyfriend loophole is incredibly significant for us.”
In passing the bill, Oregon joins a slew of other states—Washington, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, New Jersey, Tennessee and Maryland—that have closed or narrowed the loophole. Advocates and researchers are now hoping that other states will follow suit.
“Excluding dating partners convicted of domestic violence from domestic violence-related firearm restrictions simply does not make sense if your goal is to safeguard victims and families," Zeoli said.
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