Supreme Court Rules That Domestic Abusers Can Lose Gun-Ownership Rights

The decision was ruled after a 6-2 vote on the Voisine v. United States case on Monday

Supreme Court building
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The United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday that people convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault are also subject to the federal ban on gun possession for convicted felons.

The decision came amid a fervent debate over who should have access to guns in this country, especially after the worst mass-shooting in modern U.S. history: the killing of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando earlier this month.

The ruling was in the case Voisine et. al v. United States, which was first argued in February. The two plaintiffs in the case, Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault charges of slapping or shoving their romantic partners. Several years later, law enforcement officials found both Voisine and Armstrong in possession of firearms, violating a federal law that prohibits convicted felons from possessing weapons.

The plaintiffs argued that they were not subject to the prohibition because their prior convictions did not qualify as a domestic assault misdemeanors because they could have been due to reckless conduct, not knowing or intentional domestic abuse. Although the appeal was rejected by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court.

The majority opinion, penned by Justice Elena Kagan, upheld the lower court’s decision and concluded that the federal weapons ban could be extended to misdemeanor assault convictions for domestic violence. Although Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in part, five justices concurred with Kagan.

The decision also effectively closed a loophole that the Supreme Court created following its ruling on the United States v. Castleman case, which upheld that knowing or intentional assault qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic assault,” but did not clarify if that was the case for a reckless assault.

Last week, House Democrats staged a sit-in after the Orlando shooting to force a vote on universal background checks and a weapons ban for those on the suspected terrorist list. Although they were unsuccessful in forcing a vote, Congressional Democrats have said they will continue working for gun control legislation after their recess concludes on July 4.

The Supreme Court ruling now means that domestic abusers cannot own weapons, but those on the suspected terrorist still can.