Convicted domestic abusers can be prohibited from owning guns. The Supreme Court just upheld that fact, which most states back up with their own laws.
In effect, SCOTUS is preventing murder — or at least trying to. Elizabeth Avore, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, responded to Monday’s ruling with this statement:
“Five times” is a pretty dramatic increase in the likelihood that women will die at the hands of their domestic abusers.
The ruling came in the case of two Maine men. Both were convicted of domestic violence under state law, then were later found to be in possession of firearms. Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from such possession. Both men were convicted of the federal charges.
Their appeal became the Voisine v. the United States case, just decided by the Supreme Court. In court documents:
“Both men argued that they were not subject to §922(g)(9)’s prohibition because their prior convictions … could have been based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct and thus did not quality as misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.”
Domestic abusers demonstrated repeat behavior.
Defendant Stephen Voisine was convicted twice of assaulting the woman with whom he was in a relationship — in 2003 and 2005. However, it wasn’t until his arrest for the federal crime of killing a bald eagle in 2009 that his possession of firearms came to light. Voisine believes, or at least claims, that his repeated assaults of his partner were “reckless” behavior, not intentional — because, in his alternative universe, a man can apparantly beat up a woman without meaning to harm her.
The other defendant, William Armstrong III, was also convicted twice for assaulting his wife — in 2002 and 2008. In searching Armstrong’s home for drugs and drug paraphernalia, police found ammunition that was linked to guns that were linked to Armstrong. He was also convicted under federal law for illegal possession of arms.
The issue that Voisine and Armstrong thought would allow them to wiggle out of their convictions and regain the ability to use guns had to do with the wording of the Maine law on domestic violence. Under state law, “recklessness” is sufficient for conviction. So the men argued that their behavior might have been “reckless” instead of “intentional,” which is in the federal definition. Both, however, seemed to have made a habit of being “reckless.”
SCOTUS’s decision wasn’t even close, even absent the deceased Antonin Scalia. The justices voted 6-2 that “a reckless domestic assault” does, indeed, meet the standard of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion:
“Congress’s definition of a ‘misdemeanor crime of violence’ contains no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior. A person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”
Justice Clarence Thomas — who has never met a gun “right” that he didn’t like, and has never met a human right that he did — argued vehemently against the majority. In his dissent, Thomas wrote:
“The majority blurs the distinction between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing.”
Force Is Force.
That opinion ignores the majority’s assertion that the use of force is the use of force. Thomas has no problem with the use of force. He continued with a complaint that the majority’s “very broad” interpretation of federal law puts the 2nd Amendment at risk. In a totally off-the-wall example, he wrote:
“It imposes a lifetime ban on gun ownership for a single intentional nonconsensual touching of a family member. A mother who slaps her 18-year-old son for talking back to her—an intentional use of force—could lose her right to bear arms forever if she is cited by the police under a local ordinance.”
Oh, c’mon! Force is force. Assault is assault. Regardless of the fact that such a situation is highly unlikely to be prosecuted, how does a mother have the right to slap her 18-year-old, legally adult son for his words?
He wouldn’t be using force against her, but she would be against him — in a reaction fueled by anger and aggression. This country has had example after example of family disputes escalating into gun play where family members die at the hands of domestic abusers — and over nothing more serious than a parent feeling like he/she has been “back talked.”
Why is a Supreme Court justice defending such behavior? Oh, yeah. Guns. The NRA. Yada, yada, yada. No one is surprised at Thomas’ position — or shouldn’t be. He is nothing if not consistent.
The real surprise was in who joined him in his dissent. Justice Sonia Sotomayor — usually a fierce defender of women’s rights — joined part of the ultra-conservative justice’s counterargument. She agreed that the majority had an “overly broad conception of a use of force.” However, she didn’t join his objection to the supposed weakening of the 2nd Amendment.
That is disappointing. As Kagan wrote, reckless force is still force. Lives — of women, children, and, yes, men — depend on recognition of that fact.
Feature photo via U.S. Federal Government. Public domain image.