Women being physically assaulted by a man, pulling at her hair.

The “boyfriend loophole” has seen renewed discussion in recent weeks. But what does the “boyfriend loophole” actually mean, and how can this impact victims of domestic violence? In laymen’s terms, while there are currently legal protections in place for victims of domestic violence, they mainly apply to those who have been married to or have lived with their abuser. However, due to the current definition of intimate partner violence and the laws in place, this leaves many victims of abuse unprotected – especially when it comes to gun violence. For example, these laws may not protect a victim of abuse whose partner does not live in their home, or who they are not married to. Below I will unpack and outline the current legal standing of these laws and explain more in-depth what the “boyfriend loophole” is and how it impacts victims of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which came to be known as the Lautenberg Amendment (named after Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who sponsored the bill), was enacted in 1996. The Lautenberg Amendment, which supplemented the Gun Control Act of 1968, was an attempt to keep guns out of the hands of those individuals convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. It prohibits the purchase, transport, possession, or use of firearms or ammunition by anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, or from someone who has been restrained by a court order from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or placing them in fear of bodily injury.

Despite the Amendment’s attempt to prevent individuals with a history of intimate partner violence from possessing and using a firearm, it falls short of that goal in several major areas. In particular, the definition of “intimate partner” limits the protections to only those individuals who have been married to their domestic abuser, lived with their domestic abuser, or have a child with their domestic abuser. This definition does not cover domestic abusers who are stalkers or former dating partners of the victim, hence the phrase “boyfriend loophole.” While coined “boyfriend loophole,” the phrase is meant to acknowledge the lack of protection provided to victims of any gender, orientation, or gender non-conforming individual and their relationship to an intimate partner. This loophole is concerning when taking into consideration how domestic violence can affect its victims, especially when firearms are involved. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 13.6% of American women alive today have been threatened by an intimate partner with firearms. When an abuser has a gun, the victim’s risk of homicide increases five-fold. Approximately 50% of reported intimate partner homicides are by firearms. Guns are not only used as lethal weapons in intimate partner violence, research also shows that about 4.5 million American women have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun, and nearly 1 million American women alive today have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.

Those in the LGBTQ+ community can face even greater challenges to obtaining protection against gun violence and these statistics related to intimate partner violence are even more glaring for this community. The 2010 National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual men, 26% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. In 2015, only 36% of LGBTQ+ survivors reported seeking a protective order as a safety measure for intimate partner violence. Despite the high percentage of individuals in the LGBTQ+ community experiencing intimate partner violence, obtaining assistance in the community can be a challenge when LGBTQ+ individuals are not able to access services like domestic violence shelters and other legal protections.

If you or someone you know are experiencing intimate partner violence, the following is a list of resources:

  1. Safe Alliance is a non-profit organization that provides programs and services to those experiencing domestic violence in Mecklenburg County. They run the Greater Charlotte Hope Line (980) 771-4673, which provides free, confidential 24/7 hotline for Mecklenburg County residents who need assistance with parenting issues, domestic violence, or sexual assault. Safe Alliance also provides a plethora of other services for victims such as the Victim Assistance Court Program that accompanies and assistances individuals in obtaining restraining orders, the Sexual Trauma Resources Center, Support Groups, Counseling, and other services. Safe Alliance also runs the Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter, which is an 60-bed facility in Charlotte.
  2. Mecklenburg County Community Support Services’ Prevention and Intervention Services Division is a department of local government that specializes in domestic violence and substance use services. They can help you find the help you need to get out of an unhealthy or abusive relationship, get started with counseling for yourself or your children, and request other resources. (704) 432-7233
  3. Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a non-profit organization that leads the state’s movement to end domestic violence and to enhance work with survivors.
  4. The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233)
  5. Escaping Domestic Violence PDF download link

If you or someone you know has been impacted by domestic violence, take advantage of resources such as these that are available to you. Talk with an experienced family law attorney about how you can use these resources, and what others may be available, to protect yourself.

Campbell, J. C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., et al. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. .

Zeoli, A. M., Malinski, R., & Turchan, B. (2016). Risks and Targeted Interventions: Firearms in Intimate Partner Violence. Epidemiologic Reviews.

Sorenson, S. B., & Schut, R. A. (2018). Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2015 (avp.org)

Walters, M.L., and M.J. Breiding. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation.” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

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