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Iowa Starting Line: Iowan: Joni Ernst Is Caving to the NRA On Boyfriend Loophole

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has caved to NRA pressure by introducing a version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) that does not include life-saving measures to disarm abusive dating partners and stalkers instead of supporting a bipartisan House-passed version that does. Specifically, the version of VAWA she introduced, S. 2920, does not include a provision to close the “boyfriend loophole,” a gap in federal firearm laws that allows abusive dating partners who have been convicted of abuse or placed under a final restraining order to purchase and possess guns. The bipartisan House-passed VAWA reauthorization, introduced with broad support in the Senate (S.2843), would close the deadly loophole. 

Iowa Starting Line’s piece by Elizabeth Meyer, which can be read in full here, tells the full story: 

  • The Violence Against Women Act “remains unresolved as U.S. lawmakers prepare for the second session of the 116th Congress, in large part due to Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.”
  • The boyfriend loophole is “a significant sticking point” for Senator Ernst, “who is leading her own bill in the Senate now that doesn’t include it.” 
  • Senator Ernst introduced her version of VAWA after the NRA opposed the bipartisan House-passed version, which has “led to Ernst facing accusations of pandering to the NRA.”
  • Senator Ernst’s bill has “less support in the Senate than the Democratic bill got in the House. Only 12 Republicans senators are current co-sponsors of Ernst’s version. There were 33 Republican votes for the Democratic bill in the House.” 

In recent weeks, Senator Ernst has argued that the bipartisan House-passed version of VAWA, which would close the boyfriend loophole, is “full of political talking points” and “overly broad.” But this argument contradicts President Trump’s own Department of Justice, which, according to a recent Daily Beast report, supports closing the boyfriend loophole in the House-passed VAWA bill. 

Closing the boyfriend loophole would be a landmark step toward protecting those who have suffered from domestic abuse. Women in America are five times more likely to be murdered if their abuser has a gun. And in Senator Ernst’s home state of Iowa alone, as Iowa Starting Line notes, 37 Iowa women were killed by intimate partners from 2013 to 2017; 65 percent of these homicides were committed by dating partners — making Iowa women nearly twice as likely to be killed by a dating partner than by a current or former spouse.

More information about the bipartisan House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 is available here. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or to request an interview with a policy expert.