DV SCOTUS Update: Domestic Violence and Gun Rights

Update: On March 19th The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of current Domestic Violence offender gun ban to keep misdemeanor assaults as a preclusion to possess a firearm. The issue at hand was not whether dangerous violent domestic abusers should have guns but rather the unequal definition of Domestic Violence across the states. In Washington State an “offensive, or unwanted touching” is considered Domestic Violence. By way of example, a person is in the middle of an argument with a person they live with, married to, or related to. If that person places a hand on the shoulder of the person they are arguing with, the person may have legally committed Domestic Violence Assault in the Fourth Degree, whether or not your intentions were to harm that person. The fact that the touch was unwanted will satisfy the statute as a crime of Domestic Violence Assault. While in other states, you must strike or intend to do harm to the opposing party to qualify for domestic violence.

This unequal application of a law may put many people under a negative stigma when they in fact had no intentions of harming another. This may seem to narrowly curtail the due process that is required when stripping one from a constitutional right.

Justice Sotomayer (whom I usually agree with) stated “We see no anomaly in grouping domestic abusers convicted of generic assault or battery offenses together with the others whom (the federal law) disqualifies from gun ownership.”   In the case argued before the Supreme Court, the conviction was determined by all nine justices to qualify as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence that would ban him under federal law. The true issue was the definition of Domestic Violence.

Justice Scalia (whom I rarely find persuasive) in a separate concurring opinion ridiculed the court’s inclusion of “offensive touching” as a crime triggering the gun ban. Under the definitions of domestic violence used by public interest groups, he said, that could sweep up “acts of omission,” “repeated accusations of infidelity” and “name-calling.” “When they (and the court) impose their all-embracing definition on the rest of us, they not only distort the law, they impoverish the language,” Scalia wrote. “When everything is domestic violence, nothing is.”

As for now, the law is still varied from state to state and, unfortunately, is categorized as the same under federal law. While we do believe that it is appropriate for the court to preclude violent persons from owning and possessing firearms given the potential propensity for violence, we also believe that the definition of Domestic Violence should be equal across the country so the law can be applied properly.



While the case above previously decided specifically held that the conviction, although an unequal standard across the nation, qualified as “a misdemeanor crime of Domestic Violence.” One of the issues was what constituted Domestic Violence, whether it be by physical force or simply an “offensive or unwanted touching.” Causing harm with intentional use of physical force is obvious. However, as the dissenting justices pointed out, an “unwanted or offensive touching” is a broad definition. The thought was that by diluting such a serious subject with a generic term we become desensitized to the severity of the offense. While the decision of level of harm was held over two years ago the Supreme Court realized they did not clarify the intent behind the act in which causes harm. This brings us to the case decided today VOISINE Et AL. v. United States No 14-10154.

In the previous case Castleman it was held that “knowing or intentional assault qualifies as such a crime” but they did not discuss the issue of “reckless assault” and its application to the Domestic violence definition. Think of this decision as a finishing polish on the previous. The legal definition of Reckless in relation to crimes (assaults, endangerment, etc) is “the person knows or should know that his or her actions were liklely to cause harm.” This is contrasted with the “knowing and intentional” acts of the previous decision. If you punch someone you are knowingly and intentionally causing them harm. However, if someone is in an argument with a person they live with, are married to, or related to and throws an object (in a different direction than the person) or strikes an object with their hand and it happens to bounce off the wall and hit the other person, whether intentional or not, the offending person may have legally committed Domestic Violence Assault in the Fourth Degree, whether or not their intentions were to harm that person.


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