Today, a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was introduced in the U.S. Senate. Introduction of this bill, sponsored by five Democrats and five Republicans, represents a major step forward after a deal was reached on a bipartisan framework on reauthorization in December. The bill fills many critical needs of survivors and vulnerable populations, and also includes a provision that requires the federal government to notify state and local law enforcement when a convicted domestic abuser lies on a background check in an attempt to illegally buy a gun – known as NICS Denial Notification.
Notably absent from the bill text, however, is a provision closing the dating partner loophole. Everytown, Moms Demand Action, and Students Demand Action are calling for an amendment addressing the dating partner loophole to get a vote on the Senate floor.
“It’s time for our federal laws to catch up with the current reality of domestic violence in the United States: women are now just as likely to be killed by an abusive dating partner as by a spouse,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Although this legislation is an important step towards reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, as it’s currently written, the bill fails to close the dating partner loophole. Our grassroots army of volunteers will keep fighting for its inclusion in the final bill, and we will hold anyone who stands in the way of protecting women from gun violence accountable.”
“We applaud Senators Feinstein, Ernst, Durbin and Murkowski for advancing this bill, and urge their colleagues to take the next step and close the loophole that allows abusive dating partners to keep buying guns simply because they aren’t married to their victim,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Republicans and Democrats agree that intimate partner gun violence is an urgent crisis that needs to be solved, so now they need to come together and address the gaps that leave countless women and families at risk.”
In March 2021, the House passed a separate reauthorization of VAWA with the support of 29 Republicans that included closing the dating partner loophole and a NICS Denial Notification provision.
Weak gun laws are a key risk factor that contributes to the deadly violence women face in America. Recently released CDC data show that intimate partner gun violence kills an average of 70 women each month. Beyond murders, nearly one million women are living with the scars and trauma of being shot or shot at by an intimate partner. Under current federal law, people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence are only prohibited from possessing guns if they were married to, lived with, or share a child in common with their victim – but today women in America are just as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses. The House-passed VAWA reauthorization would align the law with VAWA’s original intent and prohibit dating partners convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic abuse or subject to a protective order from purchasing or possessing guns.
Intimate partner violence and gun violence in the U.S. are inextricably linked, impacting millions of women, families, and communities across the country –– which is why addressing the dating partner loophole would be a landmark step towards saving women’s lives in America. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. More information on the link between guns and domestic violence is available here and resources for survivors of domestic abuse can be found here.