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Gun Talks Snag on Tricky Question: What Counts as a Boyfriend?

WASHINGTON — One of the sticking points standing in the way of a final deal on what could be the first significant bipartisan gun safety legislation in decades is an age-old question: How do you define a friend?

The question may sound frivolous, but for a small group of Republicans and Democrats pushing to translate a hard-won compromise on guns into legislation that can draw 60 votes in the Senate, it’s vital. And for millions of women who have been threatened with a firearm by an intimate partner, it is deadly serious.

It concerns a provision in the proposed agreement that would make it more difficult for domestic violence offenders to obtain weapons.

Current law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a restraining order from purchasing a gun, but it only applies if they have been married to or cohabiting with the victim, or have had a child with them. . Lawmakers have spent years working unsuccessfully to close what has come to be known as the “boyfriend loophole” by extending the law to other intimate partners. Taking such a step is seen as one of the more publicly popular and effective ways to reduce gun violence.

But first, lawmakers need to agree on exactly what makes a person an intimate partner. Is it one date or several? Can an ex-boyfriend count?

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who led the talks, described it as “a complicated matter of state statutes and state tax practices.”

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican, said the question about the boyfriend was surprisingly complex.

“The superficial explanation seems to be quite simple, but I know that as they try to reduce it to legal texts, I think it has become a little more inconvenient,” said Mr Thune, who is not directly involved in the negotiations. †

Lawmakers are rushing to finalize and pass legislation ahead of the upcoming Senate recess on July 4, which will require at least 10 Republican senators to join Democrats in breaking a Republican filibuster.

The agreement on new gun laws includes enhanced background checks for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, allowing law enforcement officers to examine juvenile and mental health records for the first time. It would bring federal money to states with so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed dangerous. The compromise is also expected to tighten laws to stop gun trafficking and include money to support mental health services in communities and schools, as well as school security.

The final haggling focused on the details of closing the loophole, including the definition and whether those subject to the gun ban should be able to appeal. Negotiators also debated on Thursday how to fund the red flag bill and whether states that don’t have such laws can receive funds.

The deadlock in the loophole has become so sticky that Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and a key player in the talks, said the proposal could be dropped from the package altogether.

“We’re not ready to blow smoke yet, so we don’t have a deal yet,” Mr Cornyn said, declaring “I’m not frustrated – I’ve just finished” as he left a closed negotiation session that lasted a long time. Thursday afternoon.

Republicans want to limit the scope of the domestic violence provision, while Democrats want to write it broadly.

“There are many people who have committed domestic violence but have not actually been charged with domestic violence – they are charged with simple assault, but they have undoubtedly committed an act of domestic violence,” said Mr. Murphy and added: Critical phase of the negotiations, so I am not going to share anything that jeopardizes our ability to achieve this.”

The inclusion of the boyfriend provision in the bipartisan box, released Sunday with the support of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, was one of the biggest surprises for officials from both parties, given repeated failed attempts to address it in the past. Earlier this year, lawmakers were forced to drop a similar provision from an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act — a landmark law intended to end domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault — because Republicans objected.

“This is the difference between doing what sounds right and actually saving lives,” Missouri Democrat Cori Bush said of closing the loophole. “We understand that we can’t get everything, but we need to do enough if we can see that the research is there.”

That research, as well as analysis from leading gun security organizations, shows that millions of women are threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. Among 1980 and 2008, more than two-thirds of those killed by a spouse or former spouse were shot. Several of the gunmen involved in mass shootings in recent years, including at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 and a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, had histories of domestic or family abuse.

As talks began on a compromise over gun safety legislation in the wake of devastating mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, Texas, Arizona Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema led pressure to address domestic violence as part of the framework, assistants involved with the discussions said.

But agreement on the details of the provision has proved elusive, even as the chief negotiators — Ms. Sinema, Mr. Cornyn, Mr. Murphy, and North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis — have huddled repeatedly in hopes of a breakthrough that would can vote on the legislation next week.

Other senators have raised questions about whether the provision should be retroactive, or whether someone banned from buying a weapon under the measure, particularly because of a crime, should have the opportunity to appeal — and for how long. have to wait before they can do this.

“Many of our members, as you know, are always concerned about making sure there is a proper due process built into some of those provisions, and so I think that will be the key,” said Mr Thune.

The proposal under discussion, like many of the elements of the agreement, is more limited than what Democrats have insisted on in the past, including in a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. In a speech this week, Ms. Klobuchar indicated that she, like other Democrats, would support the legislation even if it fell short of her original plan and other gun security proposals.

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