In new gun law, a quiet breakthrough for victims of abuse
Nikiesha Thomas was on her way to work one day when she told her sister that she was thinking about getting involved with domestic violence prevention.
The idea gave Keeda Simpson pause. Her younger sister had never mentioned anything like that before, and she was bringing it up in a phone call just days after filing for a protective order against her ex-boyfriend.
It was their last conversation.
Less than an hour later, Thomas’ ex-boyfriend walked up to her parked car in a southeastern neighborhood of the nation’s capital and shot through the driver’s side window, killing the 33-year-old.
It’s cases like hers, where warning signs and legal paperwork weren’t enough to save a life, that lawmakers had in mind this summer when they crafted the first major bipartisan law on gun violence in decades.
The measure signed by President Joe Biden in June was part of a response to a harrowing string of shootings over the summer, including the slaying of 19 children at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The package included tougher background checks for the youngest gun buyers and help for states to put in place “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged dangerous.
Also tucked into the bill was a proposal that will make it more difficult for a convicted domestic abuser to obtain firearms even when the abuser is not married to or doesn’t have a child with the victim.
Nearly a decade in the making, lawmakers’ move to close the “boyfriend loophole” received far less attention than other aspects of the legislation. But advocates and lawmakers are hopeful this provision will save lives and become a major part of the law’s legacy.
“We have so many women killed — one every 14 hours, from domestic partners with guns in this country,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a longtime advocate for the proposal, said before passage of the bill in June. “Sadly, half of those involve dating partners, people who aren’t married to someone, but they are in a romantic relationship with them in some way.”
Federal law has long barred people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from being able to buy a gun. But that restriction had only applied to an individual who is married to the victim, lived with the victim or had a child with the victim. As a result, it missed a whole group of perpetrators — current and former boyfriends or intimate partners — sometimes with fatal consequences.
At least 19 states and the District of Columbia have taken action on this issue, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. Klobuchar and domestic violence advocates have worked for years to do the same on the federal level, with little success.