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Congress Does Know What the Boyfriend Loophole Is, Don’t They?

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the dais behind him

During last night’s joint address to Congress, President Biden hit on all the expected talking points, including lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. He specifically wants that bill, which would implement a number of reform policies in the American policing system, to pass by next month, which will mark the one year anniversary of Floyd’s murder.

That wasn’t the end of Biden’s comments about violent racism, hate crimes, and gun violence. He praised the Senate for voting 94 – 1 (screw you, Josh Hawley) to pass the recent Asian Americans hate crimes bill and asked the House to do the same.

He also asked Congress to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans, saying he wants transgender people and especially trans youth, to know he “has your back.”

He then touched on the Violence Against Women Act, which has been federal law since Biden sponsored it 27 years ago, but has expired and needs to be reauthorized.

In talking about the need to reauthorize the act, Biden mentioned that it would close the “boyfriend loophole,” and to hear a president say those words honestly felt monumental. This is why the reaction from the chamber felt so strange.

If you’ve never watched a State of the Union address (which is essentially what last night’s speech was, even if technically it wasn’t called that), there is a lot of clapping and a lot of standing ovations. Every time the president makes a declaration, Congress claps, that’s just the format.

Well, at least it is for the president’s own party—the other side, especially when it’s the GOP, tends to stay silent out of protest no matter what’s being said.

Yet when Biden said he wanted to close the boyfriend loophole, there was only some very sparse and incredibly brief applause–from the sound of it, only one or two people took that for the applause line that it was clearly meant to be and they seemed to stop clapping as soon as they realized the rest of the crowd was not. (To those people’s credit, those few that did clap did so enthusiastically for that brief moment.)

The applause did come later, but it definitely raised the question: Do enough members of Congress know what the boyfriend loophole is? Because they definitely need to.

The “boyfriend loophole” (otherwise known as the “intimate partner loophole”) has allowed convicted domestic abusers to purchase guns if the abuse happens between non-married people.

Federal law already prohibits anyone who had been convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing or possessing guns, but it only applies to spousal abuse, requiring the victim and their abuser to be married, living together, or have a child together. In 2018, Oregon became the first state to close that loophole and expand the definition of what is partner abuse, and Biden is right, it needs to happen on a federal level.

“You know, it’s estimated that 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in America—50 a month,” Biden said. “Let’s pass it and save some lives.” (That’s when the applause finally came, by the way.)

Closing this loophole would absolutely prevent the deaths of so many women who have already been victims of domestic abuse. But what Biden didn’t mention is that there’s no question that countless other deaths could be prevented as well.

It’s been proven time and time and time again that people (and let’s be clear, it’s men) who commit acts of mass violence also have a history of violence against women. It’s probably the most consistent throughline between all domestic terrorists and perpetrators of mass shootings.

As I wrote back in 2018 after the Oregon decision, “it’s truly rare to see a perpetrator of mass violence who doesn’t have a history of violence against women. Studies have shown that there is no greater indicator of future violence than a domestic violence conviction. 54% of mass shootings involve partner or family violence, with the shooter killing or injuring a partner or family member. And when an abuser has access to a gun, their victim’s chance of being murdered increases by 500%.”

When we talk about ending mass shootings, we have to talk about violence against women, and I’m so glad Biden chose to do so last night.

(image: Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.