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SCOTUS Decision Can Impact Gun Ownership

The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the 20-year old law barring anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm.

Regardless of your position, the 6-2 ruling, written by Justice Elena Kagan, rejected the challenge of the existing law by two men who were found guilty of felony gun possession because of previous misdemeanor domestic violence charges. The court said that the conviction, whether the misdemeanor be the result of recklessness or intent, was sufficient for the prohibition.

In her majority opinion, Justice Kagan wrote that the federal statute was designed to close what she called a "dangerous loophole" in gun laws as many domestic violence cases were handled as misdemeanors. She said the actual intent of the law was to prevent all domestic abusers, even those under "run of the mill misdemeanor assault-and-battery laws," from possessing guns.

No one's arguing the need to more comprehensively address the problem of domestic violence, but under the Kagan interpretation- which some SCOTUS observers say is "unusually broad" - any qualifying misdemeanor charge, no matter how minor, is seen as grounds for denial of the Second Amendment right to possess a firearm.

According to amicus briefs filed with the court, the intent in Voisine v. United States wasn't to create problems with domestic violence laws in thirty-four states. That was the position argued by anti-gun groups like Everytown for Gun Safety. Rather, they say it was to encourage the high court to more narrowly construe the statute by establishing a level of offense that would lead to the denial of the Second Amendment right.

Instead, the court ruled that any offense was sufficient for disqualification.

Domestic violence victim advocate groups, however, say the ruling is "exactly right" based on their assertion that an abused woman is six times more likely to be killed if there are firearms in the house.

Right now, pro-Second Amendment groups are evaluating a course of action. Whatever the action, a resolution won't come quickly.

One possible option would be to find someone with an old misdemeanor conviction willing to go through the long legal process of trying to regain the right to legally carry a gun.

It's worth noting that this case is the one that compelled dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas to break his decade-long streak of not asking questions. During oral arguments, Justice Thomas asked the government's attorney if there were any other constitutionally guaranteed rights that could be suspended due to a misdemeanor conviction.

At the time Justice Thomas spoke, Second Amendment advocates took his stiff questioning as a sign that the high court might see the need to address the broad interpretation. Instead, it seems he was doing what longtime court observers said: speaking to defend the "strict interpretation" position held by his longtime friend and recently-deceased fellow justice Antonin Scalia.


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