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Students at the Forefront: “Boyfriend Loophole” Closed with New Gun Law in Oregon

Since the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida last month, students have been at the forefront of the debate over gun control in the U.S., and their voices are making a difference. Earlier this month, less than three weeks after the Parkland mass shooting, the first gun control law since the Parkland high school massacre was enacted. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law the so-called “boyfriend loophole” bill. The bill would allow police in Oregon to confiscate guns from people who stalk or abuse a partner even if they are not married to or living with the victim and do not share a child in common with the victim.

According to National Public Radio, “A large portion of the mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years have roots in domestic violence against partners and family members. Depending on how you count, it could be upwards of 50 percent.” A Congressional Research Study from 2015, which looked at mass shootings from 1999-2013, found that in one-fifth of mass public shootings and nearly all familicide mass shootings domestic violence was a factor. An Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of mass shootings from 2009-2016 found that 54% were committed by intimate partners or family members.

Since 1968, federal law has banned anyone convicted of a felony or subject to a domestic violence protection order from possessing a firearm or ammunition. The law also makes it unlawful to knowingly sell or give a firearm or ammunition to such persons. In 1996 that law was amended to include those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. The 1996 law is called the “Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban” but is more commonly known as the “Lautenberg Amendment” — named after Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

However, more protections from firearms for victims of dating abuse and domestic violence are needed. In many states it is up to the abusive person to relinquish the firearm. Moreover, once the protection order expires, it is no longer unlawful for the abuser to possess a firearm. And despite the fact that one in three high school students experience either physical or sexual violence, or both, by someone they are dating, in some states domestic violence protection orders cannot be obtained against an abuser or stalker who is not living with, married to, or sharing a child in common with the victim. (Ohio is one of two states that does not allow those abused by boyfriends or girlfriends to obtain the same protection from violence as a spouse. Recently, the Ohio legislature passed a measure to close this loophole. It would allow dating violence victims to obtain a civil protection order. Ohio governor John Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law soon.) Nor in some states is abuse or violence in such a relationship subject to prosecution for domestic violence. In these states the Lautenberg Amendment would not prohibit the abusive partner from possessing a gun. This problem has been called the “boyfriend loophole.”

Governor Kate Brown made it a priority of her administration to close the “boyfriend loophole” in Oregon law. But high school students in Parkland, as well as Oregon high school and college students, created a new sense of urgency in the Oregon legislature and the Governor to spur immediate action. Governor Brown met with students to discuss gun violence, and they spoke passionately in support of stronger gun control measures and expansion of mental health counseling for students. This was not a one-time moment of activism for students in Oregon. Prior to the meeting, Lake Oswego High School students held a rally for gun control on the steps of the Capitol in Salem, Oregon. One student, Scarlett Scott-Buck, said she came to protest “because I’m scared to attend my own school. And I’m here to be an activist for my rights to live, my friends’ rights to live, and my mother’s fear.”

Students are unapologetically speaking their truths in ways that are sparking debates over gun control measures in dozens of states and in Congress. It is their creativity, passion, courage, and strategic organizing that is finally turning the tide of the gun control debate in America. They are achieving what adults have been unable to achieve—a new sense of urgency. Students are staging protests on a national scale, like the National Walkout on March 14th, where students sat in silence for 17 minutes – 1 minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting – before marching to the U.S. Capitol to demand the attention of Congress. The March for Our Lives on March 24th continues the journey of thousands of student activists on the road to a safer America. Break the Cycle stands with each young person who is using their voice to protect themselves, their peers, and future generations. If you are interested in joining us to march on Saturday in Washington, DC, email us. If you want to take action on a local, state, or federal level, check out Break the Cycle’s policy pages.