116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Safer Communities Act, a bipartisan gun safety bill signed June 25 by President Joe Biden, closed what was known as the “boyfriend loophole” on a national level — but gaps still exist in Iowa that keep the loophole open in most cases, experts say.
The boyfriend loophole was a gap in federal law about domestic violence and gun ownership. Previously, a domestic assault conviction prevented someone from owning a gun if the assault fit into one of three categories:
- Assault of a spouse
- Assault of a partner who the perpetrator lived with
- Assault of a partner who the perpetrator had children with
Violence against a partner that didn’t fall into those categories, like a girlfriend or boyfriend, did not prevent gun ownership, thus the name, “boyfriend loophole.”
This loophole was closed, to a certain extent, in the Safer Communities Act. The act changed federal law so that guns can’t be owned by anyone convicted of any domestic assault.
In Iowa, however, violence against a partner who doesn’t fit into one of those three categories is not legally considered a domestic assault at all — so it is not covered by the Safer Communities Act.
Perpetrators of such violence can be charged with other forms of assault, but most assault charges are misdemeanors, not felonies. Anyone convicted of a felony is prohibited from owning guns in Iowa, but misdemeanor assault charges don’t prevent gun ownership unless they’re for domestic assault specifically.
Victims whose cases don’t count as domestic assault also won’t get a criminal protection order, but they can file for a civil protection order, according to Lindsay Pingel, director of community engagement for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“We are very pleased to see that (the Safer Communities Act) went forward, that it was a bipartisan effort and that President Biden signed it into law,” Pingel said. “But we know that it isn’t perfect and there’s still work that has to be done.”
According to data gathered by the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, 365 people were killed in domestic violence-related murders in Iowa between Jan. 1, 1995, and March 31, 2022. Of those 365 people, 103 were killed by a dating partner — not a cohabitator or spouse. More than half, 199, of the 365 killed in that time were killed with a gun.
Alta Medea Peters, director of community engagement for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City, said that 32 percent of domestic violence survivors served by her program experienced a gun used in their abuse. In some cases, the gun isn’t shot, but is displayed as a control tactic.
Pingel said that while she’s not against legal gun ownership, she believes it is important to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, and addressing loopholes in domestic violence related gun laws could help accomplish that.
Another gap in Iowa law related to guns and domestic abuse is a lack of accountability when it comes to turning guns in after a conviction, Peters said.
When someone is convicted of domestic assault in Iowa, that person is no longer allowed to buy guns and is legally required to turn in any guns they own, or have them confiscated by law enforcement. But that doesn’t always happen, according to Pingel and Peters. Perpetrators will sometimes move their guns out of their homes before law enforcement comes to retrieve them, or in some cases, local law enforcement systems don’t have the capacity to delegate individuals to get firearms if they aren’t turned in, Pingel said.
“There is still a gap in whose responsibility it is to take those weapons, to get them from the perpetrator. How they’re turned in, that is an area that is still quite gray when it comes to the actual enforcement of that law,” Peters said.
It is important to get guns out of the hands of abusers after a first offense because reoffenses are common with domestic violence, according to Nelly Hill, program director of the Domestic Violence Victim Services for Waypoint in Cedar Rapids.
“The risk of lethality goes up significantly when an abusive partner has access to guns,” Hill said. “Sadly, it is incredibly common for recidivism within domestic violence. ”
Iowa City: Call 800-373-1043 to be connected with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
Cedar Rapids: Call 800-208-0388 or 319-363-2093 to be connected with Waypoint’s Domestic Violence Resource and Support Line.
Anywhere in Iowa: Call 1-800-770-1650 or text “Iowahelp” to 20121 to be connected with the Iowa Victim Services Call Center
Help is available for victims, as well as family members and friends who need to talk about supporting someone they love.
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