*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to further reflect Cornyn’s voting record on the Violence Against Women’s Act.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo accused U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn on Monday of being too afraid of the National Rifle Association to pass a version of the Violence Against Women Act that would close the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
The chief made his comments about the two Texas Republicans minutes before escorting the body of Sgt. Christopher Brewster to a funeral home. Authorities said Brewster was killed while responding to a domestic violence incident.
Acevedo suggested that closing the boyfriend loophole might have prevented Arturo Solis from owning a gun because his earlier domestic violence conviction would have made it illegal. But Cruz and Cornyn stressed Texas laws on the books already made it illegal for Solis to possess a gun.
The so-called boyfriend loophole is one of the main reasons the Violence Against Women Act has not been reauthorized this year. A version of the law that would have closed the loophole passed the Democrat-controlled House in April but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
What is the boyfriend loophole?
The boyfriend loophole refers to what some describe as a gap in a federal gun law that allows some people convicted of domestic violence charges to own and purchase firearms.
Federal law bans people from owning a firearm if the victim was a spouse, a person they lived with or a person with whom they share a child. The loophole refers to the fact that victims of more casual relationships are not protected.
Unlike federal law, which prevents a person with even a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from ever owning a gun, Texas restores people’s right to own a gun five years after they complete the terms of their sentences.
What is the Violence Against Women Act?
First passed in 1994, the law provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, as well as services like transitional housing for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
The law expired in February, and reauthorization is stalled because lawmakers are in disagreement over new provisions that would close the boyfriend loophole, expand existing protections to include transgender victims, and allow U.S. citizens to be tried in tribal courts for domestic violence and dating violence crimes committed by a non-native perpetrator on native lands.
Some Republicans have argued that closing the boyfriend loophole would be too restrictive of gun rights.
Republicans, including Cornyn, have also blamed Democrats for walking away and allowing negotiations to fall apart.
Where do Cruz and Cornyn stand on the legislation?
Both Cruz and Cornyn voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that passed in 2013. Cornyn voted in favor of a version of the act that didn’t include a provision to close the loophole and didn’t pass the Senate. At the time he cited concerns about a tribal-courts provision that he said would restrict constitutional rights. Cruz opposed the law at the time because he said punishing violent criminals is a state’s responsibility.
In a phone call with reporters, Cornyn said Wednesday that he agrees with the police chief that “convicted domestic abusers should not be able to own a gun.”
But Cornyn did not respond to questions specifically about whether he would support or oppose closing the boyfriend loophole.
Cornyn introduced a version of the Violence Against Women Act last month that would extend the act for 10 years, compared with the House’s version, which extends it for five years. Cornyn’s version also has 10% more funding than the House’s version, according to his staff.
A spokesperson for Cruz said he is reviewing the legislation.
“For many years, Senator Cruz has worked in law enforcement, helping lead the fight to ensure that violent criminals — and especially sexual predators who target women and children — face the very strictest punishment,” the spokesperson said.
How does the act being stalled affect Texas?
For now, programs funded by the Violence Against Women Act are safe.
Funding through the program was extended, and allocations are being made based on the last version of the proposed law.
Should Congress decide to stop funding, a number of programs would be at risk of shutting down, said Jan Edgar Langbein, CEO of the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas.