Supreme Court Ruling Addresses Gun Rights for Domestic Abusers

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for summer break, the justices have handed down a flurry of widely-publicized and far-reaching rulings. One that didn't get as much attention as some others, but still has important ramifications, involves the ability of those convicted of domestic violence crimes to possess a gun. The court ruled in a 6-2 decision to uphold a case in which a broad meaning of domestic violence was applied when it came to gun ownership.

Under Federal law, those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges are prohibited from owning guns. Nevada law also has that prohibition.

The case involved two men who asserted that the fact that their admissions that they hit their significant others should not prevent them from owning guns. Both were charged with federal crimes when they were found in possession of firearms.

One man pleaded guilty in 2004 to assault after he slapped his girlfriend while she was drunk. After someone anonymously reported that the man shot a bald eagle several years later, he was sentenced to a year in federal prison for having a firearm.

The other man pleaded guilty in 2008 to assaulting his wife. Several years later, during a narcotics investigation, police found guns and ammunition in his home. He received probation.

Attorneys for the men argued that the law forbidding convicted domestic abusers from owning guns applies only to actions intended to cause harm and not to reckless acts, as might occur during a heated argument.

In writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said that the federal gun law was intended to "prohibit domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws from possessing guns." She added that to make exceptions for so-called reckless acts would "substantially undermine the provision's design."

In his dissent to the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed concern that "a single conviction under a state assault statute for recklessly causing an injury to a family member,,,can now trigger a lifetime ban on gun ownership." Justice Sonia Sotomyer had a different issue with the majority opinion, saying that verbiage regarding recklessness should have been written into the law if that's what Congress intended.

Loss of the right to own a gun is just one of many potential consequences of a domestic violence conviction. That's why if you're facing even a misdemeanor charge, it's essential to seek experienced legal guidance to help protect your rights.

Source: NBC News, "Supreme Court Upholds Wide Reach of U.S. Gun Ban for Domestic Violence," June 27, 2016

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