Gun control advocates hailed today’s’s ruling as a victory
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 6-2 vote that domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanors can be barred from owning weapons. This was a blow to some conservatives who feel that it could the beginning of an assault by the high court on Second Amendment issues.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, concludes that misdemeanor assault convictions for domestic violence are sufficient to invoke a federal ban on firearms possession.
The plaintiffs in this case, Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, both of Maine, had pleaded guilty in state court to misdemeanor assault charges after slapping or shoving their romantic partners. Several years later, each man was found to have firearms and ammunition in their possession in violation of a federal law affecting convicted domestic abusers.
Both argued that the weapons ban should not apply to them because their misdemeanor cases were for “reckless conduct” rather than intentional abuse.
Their appeal had been rejected by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the plaintiffs carried it on to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear it. Five justices concurred in Kagan’s opinion, while Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in part.
Similar domestic abuse laws are now on the books in 34 states and the District of Columbia, triggering the federal weapons ban. But if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way today, that ban would no longer have applied in such cases.
The case, Voisine v. United States, had attracted attention in recent days because Congress has been in turmoil over efforts to tighten controls on firearms — specially to limit the number of people who can buy guns despite their past actions.
When argued in open court on Feb. 29, the case drew attention because Thomas asked questions in oral argument for the first time in a decade. He drew gasps when he asked several questions from the bench.
Thomas had asked the attorney defending the conviction of the two men whether any other misdemeanor conviction could cause a defendant the loss of “a constitutional right.” Thomas has been known as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment guarantee of a right “to keep and bear arms.”
Gun control advocates hailed today’s’s ruling as a victory for public safety and women and children affected by domestic violence.
“Access to a gun is what often turns domestic abuse into murder,” Elizabeth Avore, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “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.”