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Domestic violence and gun ownership: an update on the recent Supreme Court decision

On Behalf of | Jul 26, 2016 | Domestic Violence |

Domestic violence is a very sensitive subject in America.

To be sure, surveys suggest the problem is widespread. But that doesn’t mean cases resulting from ordinary arguments are the same as those involving intentional acts of harm.

Given this distinction, can the federal government prohibit people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning firearms? In this post, we will update you on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on the issue.

Voisine v. United States

The case is called Voisine v. United States. It concerned two men from Maine who were convicted in state court of misdemeanor domestic assault against their girlfriends.

Several years after their convictions, the men were found to own guns. Authorities charged them with violating a federal law that bars firearm possession for people convicted of domestic abuse.

Lautenberg law

The federal law is called the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban. It is sometimes called the Lautenberg Amendment, after the New Jersey senator who proposed the law, and has been on the books for about 30 years.

The Lautenberg law does not only prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from owing or handling guns or ammunition. It also applies the same prohibitions to people are under a domestic violence restraining order.

Issue of intent

The Supreme Court justices considered the question of whether the Lautenberg law applies to people who were convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault for acts committed recklessly but not intentionally.

For example, if you threw a plate in your partner’s direction during a sudden argument, it doesn’t necessarily mean you intended to harm your partner.

By a 6-2 majority, however, the Court concluded that the federal ban against gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence does apply to misdemeanors committed recklessly. Speaking for the Court, Justice Elena Kagan said that the law does not only apply to offenses committed with specific intent to injure the other person.

Two justices dissented. Justice Clarence Thomas argued that a single minor injury that was inflicted recklessly can result in loss of gun rights, despite the existence of the Second Amendment.

Your circumstances

The outcome of the Voisine case is a reminder that domestic violence charges always have to be taken seriously. If you think you might be charged or already have been, it is important to get a skilled defense lawyer on your side.