Monday, June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court made a ruling allowing the federal government to ban gun ownership for domestic violence abusers convicted of a misdemeanor. This law was modified by the Court because of the Voisine v. U.S. 14-10154 case, in which two men were convicted of a misdemeanor under a Maine law. The court voted 6-2 in favor of expanding the federal law that prohibits domestic abusers who are convicted of a felony from gun ownership to also ban ownership by persons convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
Stephan Voisine and William Armstrong brought the case to court. The two men were charged with the federal crime of possession of a firearm after they were each convicted of misdemeanor assault. The two men argued that their crime was not knowing or intentional, but rather their crime was reckless, so it did not fall under the federal statute. However, the ruling Monday means they each can be banned from ever having a gun. Armstrong was convicted of an assault in 2002 and, in 2008, of assaulting his wife, and Voisine was convicted in 2003 and 2005 of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
Feb. 29, 2016, when the law was originally passed, Justice Clarance Thomas began asking questions about the law, fearing that prohibiting persons convicted of a felony or misdemeanor from gun ownership would be a violation of Second Amendment rights: “The constitutional right to bear arms.” It was decided that the law needed to be worded specifically so as not to interfere with the Second Amendment. Thomas added to the ruling that the second Amendment rights would be up to the discretion of states and the local prosecutors.
During the Voisine v. U.S. case, Thomas decided to break his 10 years of silence, voicing his opinion during courtroom arguments. He defended the rights of those who commit domestic violence and was outraged by the restrictions of the constitutional rights of violent domestic abusers. The Supreme Court justice said:
It imposes a lifetime ban on gun ownership for a single, intentional, nonconventional touching of a family member…the majority seeks to expand that already broad rule to any reckless physical injury or nonconsensual touch. I would not extend the statute into that constitutionally problematic territory.
This latest law is an important step to ending domestic violence, and it comes in the wake of many confrontations on gun violence. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy had a 15-hour confrontation in the Senate after the Orlando massacre that killed almost 50 people, in which he argued for better legislation. Even with significant media awareness, Murphy still could not gain enough votes. However, a compromise was reached, and it looks as if Republicans just might stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA); on the smaller measures, at least. The failed attempt by Murphy was followed by House Democrats staging a sit-in. John Lewis, D-Ga., who is a civil rights hero, proclaimed, “We’re not giving up the fight.”
President Barack Obama extended his condolences to the families of the victims and assured all Americans that the attack would be taken seriously. He did his best to keep focus on the seriousness of gun violence, while Donald Trump did his usual finger-pointing and again called for a ban of all Muslims in the U.S.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday is a positive step forward in ending domestic violence, but there is still a long way to go. In many cases, abusers do not have guns and cause physical harm to their victims with their fists or other weapons.
Justice Thomas may not agree with this law, but one would have to hope that he is not trying to throw up road blocks in the fight against domestic violence. There is so much domestic violence that goes on every day, and, unfortunately, most goes unreported. The Supreme Court sent a message to all abusers in Voisine v. U.S. that no one is above the law, and domestic violence will not be tolerated.
Opinion by Katherine Miller
Bloomberg Politics: U.S. Supreme Court Backs Gun Curb in Domestic-Violence Case
Enquire: Why Did Clarence Thomas Defend the Rights of Domestic Abusers?
CNN: Orlando shooting: What motivated a killer?
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