Saturday, September 23, 2023

The “boyfriend loophole” and “red flag” laws: Why gun control talks hit a roadblock – again

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A bipartisan group of senators hoped to have converted a gun control framework into actual legislation on Friday. But again, they’ve run into some roadblocks.

While Republicans and Democrats were able to reach agreement on a framework that encourages states to pass red flag laws and improve background checks for people 21 and younger, conflict has arisen over exactly how far some of these provisions should go.

Republican negotiators believe Democrats are too open-minded in their proposals and want to make sure they don’t act too aggressively by restricting access to firearms. In particular, there is division over closing what is known as the “boyfriend loophole” and over how grant money earmarked for strengthening “red flag” laws can be used.

“At some point, when we hit the 60 . can’t get, [Senate votes] then we’ll have to delete… some of it,” sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the leading Republican negotiator, told reporters Wednesday.

Lawmakers have a tight timeline; they want to pass legislation before they leave for their July 4 vacation at the end of next week. The concern is that if the talks drag on, they will lose momentum and fail. sen. Chris Murphy (CT), the Democrat who led the talks, was still cautiously optimistic that the team could get a bill, although that will likely depend a lot on how much progress is made in the coming days.

“Our staff is currently drafting legislative texts on…agreement areas as we work on the final bottlenecks,” Murphy said in a statement Thursday. “I think we can put this to a vote next week.”

The two points of contention, briefly explained

There are two main areas that have emerged as sticking points: sealing the “friend in the law” and specifying where grant money related to “red flag” laws can be used.

  • “Boyfriend loophole”: Currently, people convicted of domestic violence are not allowed to possess a firearm, although this restriction only applies if a person is married to, cohabiting with or has a child with the victim. The policy loophole is known as the “boyfriend loophole” because it excludes people who are dating but don’t fall into the other categories.

Closing the “boyfriend loophole” has long been a goal of domestic violence advocates, though Republicans have opposed it for years because some take it too far in controlling gun access. For example, Democrats have repeatedly called for the loophole to be closed as part of the Violence Against Women Act, only to have this requirement dropped because its inclusion prevented the larger bill from passing.

Now lawmakers are trying to figure out which dating partners this restriction would apply to, with Democrats aiming to keep the category broader.

  • Red Flag Laws: A provision of the framework would provide states with grants to incentivize them to either pass the red flag laws or better implement them.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have these laws, allowing family members and law enforcement officers to request a court to seize or prohibit a person from having firearms if they are determined to pose a threat to themselves or others.

However, Cornyn has expressed concern that the funding is only available to places that have these laws, noting that he would like states like Texas — which don’t have such policies — to be able to use it for other “crisis intervention” programs. related to mental health.

Time is a big concern

One of Congress’s biggest obstacles – as is often the case – is time.

Lawmakers are slated to leave the city as early as June 24 to hold a two-week recess for the July 4 holiday, and Democrats hope to secure a vote before then. While the Senate could always cancel this recess, it was historically unlikely. And if a vote on the bill is delayed much longer, momentum on the matter will likely slow.

Republicans, meanwhile, are divided on the bill. For example, Cornyn, the chief negotiator for the Republicans, has emphasized the importance of acting quickly. But he’s also faced major setbacks from conservative members of his caucus — trying to water down important provisions. Indecision and delay jeopardize the chance of a bill because you can’t write what is undecided and without a bill there is nothing to vote on. Cornyn wrote in a tweet on Thursday

If the discussions were pushed past the recess, there’s no reason lawmakers couldn’t resume them in July. The biggest concern, though, has been how such talks have failed or languished in the past when lawmakers didn’t act quickly to pass legislation. in 2019for example, two-party talks over red flag laws that were busted after two mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, but were thwarted by Republicans and lost steam.


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