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“Reckless” Domestic Abusers Lose Gun Rights

In a recent 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a domestic violence assault committed recklessly can be considered a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, triggering the federal ban on gun ownership.  This case, Voisine v. United States, was brought by two Maine men who argued that they should not have been stripped of their ability to own or buy a firearm despite previous domestic violence misdemeanor convictions.

In 1996, Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment, which banned individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning or buying guns.  However, lawyers for the two men who brought this case argued that their crimes did not trigger the federal ban because their assaults were committed recklessly, rather than intentionally or knowingly.  

The Court rejected arguments that the gun ban only applied Gun Rightsto intentional acts of abuse, stating that Congress intended to cover reckless conduct under the Lautenberg Amendment.  Because a significant majority of jurisdictions defined domestic violence misdemeanors to include the reckless infliction of bodily harm, the Court reasoned, Congress thus must have known it was including some individuals who engaged in reckless conduct.  

Justices Thomas and Sotomayor disagreed with the majority’s “overly broad conception of a use of force.”  In the Thomas-Sotomayor view, “the majority blurs the distinction between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing” and thereby does a grave injustice to criminal defendants.  The two Justices agreed that if Congress wanted to cover all reckless conduct it could have written the law differently.  

There has been a huge legislative effort in recent years to strengthen laws keeping guns away from domestic abusers and ensuring that those who are barred from owning weapons are actually required to turn them in.  If you are facing charges for domestic violence, this recent Supreme Court decision will impact your ability to buy or own guns upon conviction even if you were not acting intentionally.  A misdemeanor domestic violence conviction carries serious consequences, now including a definite ban on buying or owning a gun, which is why it is important to contact an attorney if you are facing charges stemming from a domestic violence incident.