The Supreme Court issued its decision in Voisine v. United States on Monday, ruling 6-2 that people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors can be banned from owning guns. Justice Kagan authored the majority opinion, and Justice Thomas authored the dissent, which Justice Sotomayor joined in part.
The petitioners in the case were two men from Maine who were convicted of misdemeanor assaults – one against his wife, and the other against his girlfriend. After their domestic violence convictions, both of these men were found with firearms, and charged with crimes under federal law. These men argued that their domestic violence crimes were reckless, but not intentional, so the gun law should not apply. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The District of Columbia, like many other states, has a law restricting gun ownership for anyone subject to a Civil Protection Order (CPO) or convicted of a domestic violence crime. In fact, anyone who has been in D.C. Superior Court for a CPO has probably heard the judges go over the “firearms warnings,” telling Respondents that they must relinquish their firearms within 24 hours. Fortunately for survivors of domestic violence in D.C., this Supreme Court opinion allows that law to stay in place.
A recent D.C. tragedy demonstrates how important this decision is. A D.C. woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend on June 18, 2016, just two days before she was scheduled to appear in Court for a CPO. This occurred after weeks of escalating violence, including property damage and frequent unwanted contact. As the Supreme Court said, “firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination.”
Amid a national conversation about gun control, this decision—which largely eschews the messy debate over Second Amendment rights—interprets the law to preserve a valuable protection for survivors of domestic violence. Keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers is essential to the continued safety of Legal Aid’s client community and domestic violence survivors nationwide.