Supreme Court Says Government Can Ban Domestic Abusers From Owning Guns

The United Sates Supreme Court has upheld a federal law that bans people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns in a decision issued Monday amid a flurry of other major decisions, Gawker is reporting. The justices ruled 6-2 in favor of upholding the ban; only Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Federal law currently prevents persons convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms – a law enacted, in part, because scientific studies seem to indicate that people who commit violent acts against family members are more likely to criminally use guns in the future, according to USA Today.

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Two Maine men – Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong III – the petitioners in the case, Voisine v. United States, both had misdemeanor domestic-violence convictions on their criminal records, and both were later caught with guns that they were forbidden, by law, from owning or possessing.

Stephen Voisine had a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction dating to 2003, according to CBS News – he had slapped his girlfriend in the face while intoxicated. In 2009, he was found to be illegally in possession of a rifle after an anonymous tip claimed that he had shot a bald eagle.

The other petitioner in the case, William Armstrong III, had a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from 2002 after he pushed his wife during an argument and left a “red mark.” In 2010, police conducting a search of Armstrong’s home found firearms and ammunition.

Lawyers for both men argued before the Supreme Court that their convictions should have been thrown out. Their arguments focused largely on technicalities; in essence, their lawyers cited so-called “common law” and argued that the men’s actions were “reckless” rather than “knowing or intentional.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, declined to get caught up in a game of semantics (you can read the entire decision here).

“The common law traditionally used a variety of overlapping and, frankly, confusing phrases to describe culpable mental states—among them, specific intent, general intent, presumed intent, willfulness, and malice. Whether and where conduct that we would today describe as reckless fits into that obscure scheme is anyone’s guess.”

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In a blistering dissent, Clarence Thomas – long a fierce supporter of gun rights – argued that allowing the ban amounts to a denial of Second Amendment rights.

“We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly. In construing the statute before us expansively so that causing a single minor reckless injury or offensive touching can lead someone to lose his right to bear arms forever, the court continues to relegate the Second Amendment to a second-class right.”

Back in February, when oral arguments in the case were presented to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas made history, in a way, by asking questions. It was the first time he had spoken during oral arguments in over ten years on the Supreme Court, and the fact that he spoke at all brought literal gasps from the audience in the courtroom, according to an NPR report from the time.

Traditionally, each side in a case is given one hour to present their oral arguments to the Supreme Court, although justices can – and do – interrupt those arguments by asking questions. Thomas had made it a personal policy to keep quiet, instead allowing both sides to argue without interruption.

Monday’s decision represents a small victory for gun control advocates at a time when the nation is still reeling the worst mass shooting in U.S. History in Orlando just a few weeks ago. The shooting has prompted renewed calls for gun control, and even a sit-in in the House of Representatives, although meaningful gun control legislation has yet to pass.

Do you believe the Supreme Court made the right decision in allowing the government to continue to ban domestic abusers from owning guns?

[Image via Shutterstock/Victor Moussa]