Domestic Abusers Can Lose Gun Ownership Rights: Supreme Court

Gun owners convicted of domestic violence – both intentional and reckless – will be banned from gun ownership, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

By Laura Lifshitz
Updated: August 23, 2016

The New Ruling: Gun Ownership Rights Can Be Revoked

domestic abusers can lose gun ownership rights

As of Monday, June 26, 2016, if you have been convicted of any act of domestic violence – including a misdemeanor – a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling states that your gun ownership rights can be revoked. During the case Voisine et al v. United States, a 1996 amendment to the federal Gun Control Act that kept individuals charged with misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses from owning guns was upheld. The original amendment was based on research, which showed that people who commit violent acts against a family member may be more apt to use gun violence later on. This law was created with the goal of banning these individuals from owning firearms.

Reckless Act or Criminal Intent? Voisine and Armstrong

This 6-2 ruling was enacted and revisited during the cases of Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong III. Both individuals were convicted of owning firearms after being convicted of domestic violence, which is considered a misdemeanor crime. Both parties pleaded guilty to domestic violence; Voisine pleaded guilty in 2004 and Armstrong, respectively, in 2008. Voisine slapped his girlfriend in the face while under the influence, but it wasn't until it was reported that Voisine had went and shot a bald eagle with a rifle that he was convicted under the gun law. Voisine went to prison for a year. Armstrong assaulted his wife; police ended up investing Armstrong's home years later during a drug investigation, discovering firearms and ammunition. He earned probation time for three years.

These two individuals pleaded that their domestic violence charges should not prevent them from owning a gun because their intentions were reckless and not criminal, but the Supreme Court did not rule in their favor. Interestingly, both liberal and conservative justices upheld the sentences imposed on Armstrong and Voisine by 6-2. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the ruling, stating that this law closes a "dangerous loophole," because domestic violence offenders are often charged with misdemeanors as opposed to felonies.

This ruling is considered a huge win for women's rights and domestic violence groups now that the law will cover reckless domestic assault as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Clarence Thomas Breaks His Silence

Justice Clarence Thomas broke 10 years of silence during oral argument in court when he questioned a government lawyer last February, asking pressing questions that expressed concern that a misdemeanor conviction or reckless act could end up causing someone to lose his or her constitutional gun rights upheld by the Second Amendment. A staunch supporter of gun rights, Thomas dissented, stating that there is no other constitutional right an individual could lose forever with one conviction for something that is typically punishable only by fine.

Thomas' history with the second amendment is as such: he agreed with the judgment in McDonald v. Chicago (2010) that the right to keep and bear arms is applicable to state and local governments in the case of McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, and wrote a separate concurrence that a person's right to bear arms is a privilege of being an American under the Privileges or Immunities Clause rather than as a fundamental right under the due process clause.

Nation Entrenched in Tension After the Orlando Tragedy

Gun laws are in debate all over the country after the tragedy on June 12th in an Orlando gay nightclub in which a gunman killed 49 people. This shooting is considered to be the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the history of the United States. After this horrific tragedy, the U.S. Senate voted against gun control legislation, which had Democrats in the House of Representatives staging a sit-in demanding action on gun control.

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June 30, 2016

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