The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that reckless domestic assault can qualify as a misdemeanor crime that restricts gun ownership.
In a 6-2 ruling, justices said Congress enacted a federal law to “prohibit domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws from possessing guns” when it changed the federal ban on gun ownership to include both convicted felons and anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
“In sum, Congress’s definition of a ‘misdemeanor crime of violence’ contains no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in delivering the opinion of the court. “A person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”
The case — Voisine v. United States — centers on two men in Maine who pleaded guilty to domestic violence and were later found to be in possession of a gun while police were investigating other crimes. They argued that their crimes did not qualify as misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence because their crimes could have been based on reckless, rather than intentional, conduct.
Justice Clarence Thomas issued a dissenting opinion, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined.
Thomas said that under the majority’s reading of the law a single conviction under a state assault statute for recklessly causing an injury to a family member — such as texting while driving — can now trigger a lifetime ban on gun ownership.
“And while it may be true that such incidents are rarely prosecuted, this decision leaves the right to keep and bear arms up to the discretion of federal, state and local prosecutors,” he wrote.
Gun control advocates hailed Monday’s ruling as a victory for public safety and women and children affected by domestic violence.
“Access to a gun is what often turns domestic abuse into murder," Elizabeth Avore, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “In fact, research shows that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. 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."