Why is the Violence Against Women Act controversial?


One of Joe Biden’s proudest legislative achievements, the Violence Against Women Act, has just been reauthorised by the House of Representatives – with 172 Republicans voting against it.

On the face of it, it seems shocking that anyone would vote down a measure specifically designed to crack down on partner violence, a scourge that wrecks millions of lives and kills people across the US, predominantly women, every year.

But the reasons why so many Republicans would vote against the bill go beyond rank partisanship, and don’t necessarily rest on simple ideas about what intimate partner violence is or what should be done about it.

First passed in 1994 and updated with new legislation several times since, the act has long faced opposition because of what it says about guns. Many Republican members of Congress object to measures in the act that stop people convicted of misdemeanour domestic abuse from owning firearms – though from the point of view of protecting those at risk of lethal violence from partners, those provisions have so far been relatively narrow.

Only this latest version of the bill closes what has become known as the “boyfriend loophole”, a gap in the federal law that meant the restriction on owning guns did not apply to current or former partners who have never lived with a victim or shared a child with them.


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