The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday affirmed (pdf) a federal law that bars those convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault from owning a firearm.
In doing so, the court struck down an unusual argument from two Maine residents who pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges, but asserted that their assaults on their former girlfriends had been "reckless" rather than knowing or intentional. Therefore, they argued, their actions should neither have qualified as a "use of physical force" nor triggered the federal gun ban.
Victim advocacy groups celebrated the court's decision.
"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," said Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), in a statement.
"This is really important and relevant gun-control policy, as opposed to the xenophobic and largely irrelevant no-fly list," argued author and activist Rebecca Solnit on Facebook.
Indeed, NNEDV explained the rationale behind the federal legislation that bars convicted abusers from owning firearms:
Many perpetrators of domestic violence are often convicted only of misdemeanor crimes. In fact, the Supreme Court opinion states that 35 jurisdictions have assault laws extending to recklessness, and the "petitioners’ reading risked allowing domestic abusers of all mental states to evade 922(g)(9)’s firearms ban." (p.9) Studies show these misdemeanor perpetrators often escalate the severity of their abuse over time, and the presence of a firearm can increase chances of homicide by nearly 500 percent.
Solnit added, "It's totally insane to argue that someone hit someone else 'recklessly,' as in not intentionally and knowingly, and that therefore that assault does not constitute 'use of physical force.'"
The case garnered attention in February when Justice Clarence Thomas broke his decade-long silence on the bench to ask questions demonstrating sympathy toward the two men's argument: "Can you give me—this is a misdemeanor violation," Thomas said. "It suspends a constitutional right. Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?"
Thomas then reiterated that the case referred to "a misdemeanor violation of domestic conduct that results in a lifetime ban on possession of a gun, which, at least as of now, is still a constitutional right."
Referring to those questions, Solnit wrote, "The creep seemed very concerned about the rights of men who beat women."
Thomas authored the dissent to the court's ruling, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined in part. The case was decided 6-2.