(CNSNews.com) - Domestic abuse is more often committed by dating partners than spouses, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told a Senate hearing on Wednesday, as he urged Congress to close what he called the "dating partner loophole."
Whitehouse and other Democrats want to amend the Violence Against Women Act to keep guns away from abusive boyfriends.
"Closing the dating partner loophole would save lives, plain and simple," Whitehouse said.
The senator noted that current law prohibits domestic abusers from possessing guns only if they are married or were married to the victim; if they lived with the victim; or if they have a child with the victim.
But dating partners who have been convicted of domestic violence are not covered by current law, and that's one of the changes under consideration.
"There are other steps we can take as well," Whitehouse said in his prepared statement. "These include requiring universal background checks and helping states collect and share the data necessary to ensure that those who should be prohibited under existing law are in fact prohibited when they try to purchase firearms.
"Along these lines, I am willing to work with anyone who wants to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or 'NICS,' to ensure that it operates as Congress intended it to."
Tuesday's hearing was convened at the request of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (R-Ariz.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.
"Last May I discussed the disturbing relationship between domestic violence and gun violence with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – a powerful advocate for common sense reforms," Leahy said. "I was happy to accommodate her request for the Judiciary Committee to hold this important hearing. Violence against women comes in all forms, and there is a clear and deadly connection between domestic violence and gun violence."
Leahy said protecting women from "gun violence" should not be a partisan issue.
The hearing included a call for universal background checks from the sister of a woman who was shot to death by her estranged husband, after he purchased a pistol from an online gun-trading site.