Sen. Casey pushes to end ‘boyfriend loophole’ in domestic abuse bill over NRA objections

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey takes notes during a discussion at Penn's School of Social Policy and Practice about the importance of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expired 70 days ago. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey takes notes during a discussion at Penn's School of Social Policy and Practice about the importance of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expired 70 days ago. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania wants Congress to reauthorize a lapsed law that helps victims of domestic abuse over objections from the National Rifle Association that an added provision could deprive the rights of gun owners.

The added measure closes the “boyfriend loophole” by preventing those convicted of abusing or stalking a current or former dating partner from buying or owning a gun.

Under existing federal law, such protections for domestic violence victims apply only if the abuser was or is married to the victim. The additional provision bars convicted stalkers who are current or former dating partners from owning firearms.

The NRA fears the provision will be applied too broadly and could unfairly strip people of their right to own a firearm.

Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania with a panel of advocates Friday, Casey said that concern is overblown.

“To any male member of the NRA, what if this was your daughter, would you want a ‘boyfriend loophole’? Answer that one, and then come back and we’ll talk,” Casey said. “We need to act on it.”

Women are more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by a male partner than injured by a stranger, according to Susan Sorenson, a University of Pennsylvania professor whose research focuses on firearms and violence against women.

Sorenson, who was among the panelists who spoke with Casey, said ending the loophole for dating partners is a crucial step toward protecting women, who also die from gun violence at rates higher than other developed countries.

“Firearms are very important in intimate partner violence,” Sorenson said. “Boyfriends are the most common assailant in non-fatal partner violence.”

The boyfriend loophole measure was recently added to the Violence Against Women Act, a law enacted in 1994 that lapsed in February. The new version passed in the Democratic-held House earlier this month and has moved to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Casey would not say whether he would still support the bill if the boyfriend loophole were not addressed in the final version.

“I don’t want to be ruling out possible avenues,” Casey said. “But I think we can get this done, and I hope we can get it to the president this year.”

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