The Supreme Court just handed gun control advocates, women’s rights groups, and domestic violence advocacy groups a huge win. The ruling, announced on Monday, holds that a reckless domestic assault does indeed qualify as a domestic assault, even though not committed knowingly or intentionally, and therefore bars the perpetrator from legally buying or owning guns under federal law.
“A person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally,” explained Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the majority opinion. Joining her were Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.
The case before the court, Voisine v. United States, was brought by two men from Maine who were convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and subsequently lost their right to own firearms. Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment in 1996. The measure bars individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning or buying guns. However, the lawyers for the two men argued that since their crimes had been committed recklessly, as opposed to knowingly or intentionally, they didn’t qualify for the federal gun ban.
The court did not agree with their interpretation of the law and the idea that it only covers acts of abuse committed intentionally.
Then, as now, a significant majority of jurisdictions—34 States plus the District of Columbia—defined such misdemeanor offenses to include the reckless infliction of bodily harm,” Kagan wrote. “In targeting those laws, Congress thus must have known it was sweeping in some persons who had engaged in reckless conduct.”
She added that reckless assaults were intended to be covered under the Lautenberg Amendment, which was put in place to keep guns out of the hands of abusers convicted of “garden-variety assault or battery misdemeanors.”
The Huffington Post explains the danger of allowing abusers to have guns: “Domestic violence and guns are known to be a deadly combination. Experts say that if an abuser has access to a gun, victims are five times more likely to be killed. A study published earlier this year found that simply living in a state with a high rate of gun ownership increases a woman’s chance of being fatally shot in a domestic violence situation.”
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, at least 18 states have enacted laws to keep convicted abusers away from guns since 2012.
Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said today’s ruling “will save lives.”
The Supreme Court today affirmed what we know — domestic violence escalates and is often deadly. Ensuring that convicted abusers do not have access to firearms will save lives.
Elizabeth Avore, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, also applauded the ruling.
Access to a gun is what often turns domestic abuse into murder,” she said in a statement. “That’s why the Supreme Court’s rejection of dangerous arguments that would have eviscerated federal gun laws and allowed dangerous convicted abusers to legally possess guns in more than two-thirds of states is so significant.
In a statement, Judge Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families, also praised the court’s decision but warned that loopholes in current laws still allow abusers to find ways around the federal laws.
Today’s ruling is an important victory, but without mandatory background checks on all gun purchasers, domestic abusers still can legally obtain guns without further scrutiny.
You can read the entire ruling below:
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