Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed legislation on Monday that closes the state’s so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
The law, HB 4145, expands existing state laws to prevent intimate partners, regardless of marital status, from purchasing and possessing guns if they have been convicted of domestic violence. Under the previous law, those convicted of domestic violence were only barred from possessing guns if they were married to their victim. In addition, the new law bans those convicted of misdemeanor stalking from possessing a gun.
In a statement, Brown called the legislation’s passage “an important milestone,” noting that Oregon is the “first state to take action to prevent senseless gun violence since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida.” She urged federal lawmakers to follow the state’s lead.
In late February, Brown said that closing the boyfriend loophole was a personal priority this session. The gap in the law has been a focus of domestic violence advocates since 1996, when Congress passed the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban (or the Lautenberg Amendment), which prevents those convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns.
But that federal law, as The Trace reported in 2015, has numerous exceptions and loopholes, including a definition of domestic violence that limits intimate partners to those who are or have been married, lived together, or have children together. In short, those convicted of domestic violence against a “girlfriend,” or dating partner that they have never lived or had children with, are not banned from gun ownership under Lautenberg.
Though numerous states have a patchwork laws closing the loophole, many do not, as evidenced by Oregon’s legislation. New data on intimate partner violence reiterates the importance of closing the boyfriend loophole, as well as rethinking the legal definition of “intimate partner.”
According to a recent paper in Preventative Medicine, authored by Susan B. Sorenson and Devan Spear, found that “boyfriends and girlfriends are the most common IPV [intimate partner violence offender,” noting that “existing relationship categories for DV-related firearm purchase and possession prohibitions merit updating.” As such, Sorenson and Spear recommend that legislators adopt the CDC’s “definition of an intimate partner,” one widely accepted by intimate partner violence researchers and advocates to include, “current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, dating partners, or sexual partners.”
The authors also recommend that Congress “modify firearm laws related to domestic violence to include unmarried, non-cohabiting persons,” but such alterations seems unlikely in this political moment. Until then, it will remain up to states like Oregon to close the boyfriend loophole on their own.