A new study from the University of Pennsylvania finds that more than three quarters of domestic violence incidents involved dating partners, rather than spouses, a statistic that has potentially significant implications for protecting domestic abuse victims from gun violence.

Penn researchers analyzed more than 31,000 police reports of intimate partner violence in Philadelphia from 2013 and found that 82 percent of them involved current or former dating partners, while less than 19 percent involved current or former spouses. The full study by Penn professor Susan Sorenson and her team is published in this month’s Preventive Medicine.

Sorenson stresses one caveat: Her data is specific to Philadelphia, which has a particularly high rate of never-married adults (51.5 percent). But she notes that the average age of people getting married for the first time has risen in recent decades, increasing the general population’s proportion of unmarried adults.

The Lautenberg Amendment, a 1996 federal law that bans anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from gun possession, applies only to spouses, couples who have a child together, couples who are living together or have lived together in the past, or parents and guardians. It does not apply to dating partners. This gap is known as the boyfriend loophole.”

“The policy is from nearly a generation ago by now,” Sorenson said. “It might be time to revisit.”  

Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have expanded domestic violence gun bans to include dating partners. Similar state-level proposals have been vigorously resisted by the National Rifle Association.

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