COMMENTARY

Congress may actually get somewhere on gun safety — but Republicans' misogyny is getting in the way

The Senate gun bill could ban abusers from buying guns, but Republicans are unwilling to penalize girlfriend-beaters

Published June 15, 2022 1:01PM (EDT)

Sen. John Cornyn (Al Drago/Getty Images)
Sen. John Cornyn (Al Drago/Getty Images)

Mea culpa time. In the latest edition of my newsletter, Standing Room Only, I was quite sour about reports about the bipartisan gun bill being negotiated by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. The reporting I'd read suggested the bill was primarily focused on funding for "red flag" laws and mental health spending, both of which are nice but will do little to actually stem the problem of gun violence, especially in red states. But more fleshed-out details since show that one under-discussed aspect of the bill may end up being the most important: A proposal to finally close the "boyfriend loophole" in the federal background check law. 

This is something that both feminists and gun control activists have been demanding for decades, only to have Republicans — no fans of either preventing gendered violence or gun deaths — get in the way. 

Republican opponents to closing the boyfriend loophole simply see hitting a girlfriend as a lesser crime than hitting a wife.

It's doubly frustrating for how nonsensical the allowance is. Under the current background check system, a person with a domestic violence conviction should be flagged and prevented from purchasing a gun — but only if they married or lived with the person they assaulted. Someone who attacked a dating partner they hadn't moved in with yet can buy all the guns they want. Half of domestic violence murders, however, are at the hands of someone who hasn't lived with their victim. So it's not like this is a minor problem. The ugly implication has been that the Republican opponents to closing the boyfriend loophole simply see hitting a girlfriend as a lesser crime than hitting a wife. 

And, well, most still do.

RELATED: Can we stop domestic violence before it turns to murder? 

The Republicans who are ever-so-tentatively signed onto Murphy's compromise bill — and who, let's face it, may bolt the first time an NRA lobbyist clears his throat — are a distinct minority in the GOP. Indeed, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., is already indicating that Republicans still refuse to believe beating your girlfriend is as bad as beating your wife.

If for some reason Republicans relent on this, it could save some lives, because it remains very true that people who commit domestic murders usually committed quite a bit of domestic violence beforehand — just not the lives of women who were able to leave their abuser before marrying them. That's why this provision, if it remains intact, could go a long way toward preventing mass shootings. 


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The media loves to focus on age, race, motive, and other such factors when looking at commonalities between mass shooters. But ultimately, the biggest one is gender: Nearly all of them are male.

The second most common factor shared by mass shooters is domestic violence.

Statistics compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety show that, in more than half of mass shootings, the shooter killed a member of his family. Further research shows that in nearly 70% of mass shootings, the killer had a history of domestic violence or was targeting a family member in the shooting. And while there are outliers like the Uvalde shooting or the Sandy Hook shooting — where the very young perpetrators shot an older female relative — most of these shooters fit the typical pattern of a man who lashes out at a wife, girlfriend or dating partner. 

Indeed, the most deadly mass shooting in Texas — the 2017 church shooting in Sutherland Springs — was a direct result of an angry man seeking to hurt his ex-wife by shooting her family as they worshipped. America's original school shooting, the infamous sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, started when the killer murdered his mother and his wife at home

RELATED: Texas church shooting and domestic violence: A large and disturbing pattern

It remains hard to get a domestic violence conviction, even when an abuser is guilty. Still, over 300,000 people have been denied the chance to buy a gun because of a domestic violence conviction, despite the boyfriend loophole. If that were closed, not only will thousands of domestic murders be prevented, but some mass shootings will probably be prevented, as well.  

There's a point where things get so bad that even the tuned-out must tune back in.

That is, of course, if the law survives the Supreme Court.

On that front, there is reason to worry. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a recent dissent, this is a "restless and newly constituted Court." With three Donald Trump appointees, this court is prepared to push through a fascist wishlist of decisions, unchecked by anything resembling a good faith reading of the Constitution. We know this not just by the leaked majority opinion in a recent Mississippi abortion case that indicates the court is about to overturn Roe v. Wade. The decision Sotomayor was rightfully complaining about — which has gotten very little press attention — amounts to the court simply deciding the protections of the Fourth Amendment don't apply to the nearly two-thirds of Americans who live within 100 miles of a border. 


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Among the many decisions where the court will likely go full Infowars is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a challenge to New York's law requiring people seeking a concealed carry license to demonstrate "proper cause." Unsurprisingly, the much-ballyhooed conservative commitment to "states' rights" only applies when states pass laws that the far-right likes. State legislatures controlled by Democrats have no rights, it seems, to pass laws. It is widely expected that the court will lay waste to New York's right to regulate guns more stringently than, say, Texas. 

Unfortunately for those committed to the prevention of mass murder, it's already easy to see how the federal ban on convicted girlfriend-beaters getting guns could face a legal challenge leading directly to an overturn at the Supreme Court. As the Kansas City Star reported on Tuesday, Missouri just passed a law in 2021 preventing "local and state law enforcement from enforcing certain federal gun laws." And Missouri wants to make sure every man who beats women can collect as much lady-killing firepower as he desires: "[S]tate legislators in 2016 voted to allow convicted domestic abusers to carry firearms."

RELATED: Sotomayor: SCOTUS just "immunized" feds from liability "no matter how egregious the misconduct"

Never let anyone bamboozle you into thinking that GOP enthusiasm for abortion bans is about anything but hating women. It certainly isn't about "life." 

While it's still a little unclear how this could end up in litigation, one should have little doubt about the dangers ahead. Regardless of who sues who, Missouri has set up a showdown over whose law-making power around guns matters more: Congress or the states? And they have a Supreme Court whose answer will likely be, "depends on which government makes it easier to shoot up a grocery store or elementary school." 

Not that the situation is totally hopeless.

Right now, the biggest problem in American politics is too many voters are unaware of how far-right Republicans are or how corrupt the Supreme Court is. The main cure for our crumbling democracy would be for people to wake up already, and stop assuming Donald Trump was an anomaly. Already that process is happening with the Supreme Court, as increasing numbers of Americans are starting to realize how corrupt the court is. The Roe overturn will help speed up that waking up. A decision throwing out the right of Congress to pass even minimum gun laws would help slap people awake, as well. Unfortunately, many innocent people, including little kids, will die in the painfully slow waking-up process. But this situation should be rated as "bleak, but not hopeless." There's a point where things get so bad that even the tuned-out must tune back in. And gun violence is one of those issues where the public seems to be getting very fed up with the far-right minority that has unjust power over the rest of our lives. 


By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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