In March, President Joe Biden signed a reauthorization of the lapsed Violence Against Women Act. However, the negotiations to secure bipartisan agreement in the Senate required the removal of one of the key provisions Biden and other Democrats had hoped to include — closure of the "boyfriend loophole," which would have involved expanding the categories of people who are prevented from owning or purchasing guns after being convicted of domestic violence.
The act's reauthorization was inserted into a large government funding package that also provided $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine amid the invasion by Russia.
The law, for which Biden has played a key legislative role since its passage in 1994, was reauthorized three times, most recently in 2013. That authorization lapsed in 2018, and efforts to reauthorize it had been blocked ever since, largely due to partisan differences over gun rights. (Congress chose to continue funding existing domestic violence and assault programs in the interim.)
"It took time to change the culture, and you did it. You did it," Biden said at a recent event to celebrate the signing of the legislation. "The only way we can change the culture was by shining an ugly, bright light on it and speaking its name."
Under current law, only people who have been married to a victim, lived with them, or had a child with them can be barred from owning a gun due to domestic violence. Legislation that passed the House in March 2021 would have expanded coverage to current and former dating partners as well as people convicted of misdemeanor stalking.
During his presidential campaign, Biden had specifically cited the need to pass "reforms to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers by closing the so-called 'boyfriend loophole.'"
However, to pass the Senate, bipartisan negotiators decided they had to strip out that language. Pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association, had expressed opposition to the provision, and keeping the gun provision in the bill could have imperiled Republican support for the entire funding measure. "Otherwise it doesn't get done," one of the negotiators, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told CNN.
Democrats expressed regret that the provision couldn't be included in the final bill, with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois calling it a "tough choice" and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., saying it "isn't a perfect bill." But Feinstein added that it was a "good bill" that needed to be sent to the president's desk.
Senate Democrats said they planned to pursue a stand-alone bill on the "boyfriend loophole," though continued opposition from pro-gun advocates make its chances of passing uncertain.
Beyond the reauthorization of funding, Biden and his allies touted other expansions in the legislation, including:
• Expanded jurisdiction for tribal courts over non-Native American perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal lands.
• Expanding the ability of individuals to use the justice system to pursue perpetrators of "revenge porn."
• Increased services and support for survivors from underserved communities, including for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
"No one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period," Biden said. "And if they do, they should have the service and support to get through it, and we're not going to rest."
Biden was able to sign a reauthorization of the act, but it did not include a provision that he specifically touted as a major priority on the campaign trail. We rate this promise a Compromise.