Domestic Abusers Can't Own Guns, Supreme Court Rules

Two men convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse tried to argue that they should be allowed to own guns despite a federal ban. The court rejected their claim.
June 27, 2016, 6:39pm
Image by Vera Lair

The Supreme Court ruled today to uphold a federal law that bans convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.

The case centers around Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, both of the men were convicted of misdemeanor domestic assaults in Maine and were later charged with violating the federal law prohibiting firearm ownership.

The two plaintiffs argued that because they were convicted of "reckless" domestic abuse, rather than "knowing or intentional abuse," they should not be disqualified from owning guns under the federal ban.

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Under Maine law reckless conduct is considered a "bit less'" than knowing conduct, according to Lauren Wille, a criminal defense attorney in Maine. "Under Maine law, assault is 'knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person. With reckless conduct, the notion is that you have a good idea of the risk your conduct will cause, but have consciously chosen to disregard it," Willie says. "The offense becomes domestic violence when it involves a family or household member. The argument being made here was whether "reckless" conduct qualifies under the firearm prohibition."

The 6-2 majority, with Justices Sotomayor and Thomas dissenting, found that it does.

Many are praising the decision as a victory for women's rights and child victims of domestic abuse . Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the United States, issued a statement today saying:

The Supreme Court decision today in Voisine v. United States is a victory for public safety, and especially for the women and children most commonly affected by domestic violence. Access to a gun is what often turns domestic abuse into murder. In fact, research shows that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. 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.

The decision is being regarded as a step forward for common-sense gun control in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. Everytown notes that domestic violence is closely tied to mass shootings. According to the group's research, 57 percent of mass shootings that occurred between January 2009 and July 2015 involved the killing of a current or 2 former spouse, intimate partner or family member.