In a decision released today, the Supreme Court declined to ease restrictions on gun ownership for people convicted of “reckless” domestic violence.
“A person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the majority opinion. She was joined by John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.
In Voisine v. United States, two men from Maine had argued that their convictions were not violent or of the kind that should “subject them to a federal ban on firearm possession.”
One of the men found himself in hot water for shooting a bald eagle. When authorities later discovered a past domestic violence conviction, they added a new charge that he possessed a firearm in violation of a federal ban on gun ownership by domestic abusers.
A second defendant with previous domestic violence offenses was charged with illegal gun possession after police officers found guns at his house while executing a search for marijuana.
The court ruled 6-2 against their position. The defendants argued that their offenses only involved reckless behavior instead of intentionally violent conduct, therefore they should not have their gun rights terminated.
“Then, as now, a significant majority of jurisdictions—34 States plus the District of Columbia—defined such misdemeanor offenses to include the reckless infliction of bodily harm,” Justice Kagan wrote. “In targeting those laws, Congress thus must have known it was sweeping in some persons who had engaged in reckless conduct.”
“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.
Everytown for Gun Safety legal director Elizabeth Avore called the decision a win for public safety. “Access to a gun is what often turns domestic abuse into murder,” she said in a statement. “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.”