The Boyfriend Loophole

As advocates for survivors of intimate partner violence, we know that there are certain factors in relationships that, when present, are associated with increased incidence of death from intimate partner violence. One such factor is if an abuser owns a gun.  Access to and availability of a gun greatly increases the risk of intimate partner homicide. In Pennsylvania, in the last decade, 90% of all intimate partner violence murder-suicides have been carried out with firearms.1 For this reason, advocates in the Family Law Unit fight hard to have guns taken away from abusers when survivors seek protection from abuse orders from the Court.  

Under the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act (“PFAA”), abusers subject to protection orders are not required to relinquish their guns in all circumstances. In many cases, giving up a firearm is discretionary under the Pennsylvania law. However, the federal Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) has mandatory relinquishment provisions. This means, under federal law, abusers who are subject to a protection order are required to give up their guns, whether or not the Pennsylvania protection order provides for relinquishment.  

VAWA provides important protections for survivors of intimate partner violence. But many survivors are not protected because of a gap in the law widely known as “the Boyfriend Loophole.” VAWA only requires that abusers relinquish a gun if the abuser and the survivor were married, lived together, or have a child together. This means that if a survivor was abused by a partner, with whom they didn’t live and were not married to, VAWA and the PFAA allows him or herthe abuser to keep his their gun in many circumstances.  

Currently, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 is pending in Congress. This Act proposes to close the Boyfriend Loophole. Closing the Boyfriend Loophole would provide survivors of intimate partner violence more security and take deadly weapons away from abusers.