Voisine v. United States
136 S. Ct. 2272 (2016) - Victory - Defending Domestic Violence Gun Ban
The Voisine case was a follow-up to the unanimous 2014 Castleman decision which upheld the federal prohibition on ownership of firearms by all convicted domestic abusers, including those convicted of misdemeanors. In order to keep guns out of the hands of violent domestic abusers, the Brady Center (written by attorneys from Covington & Burling) once again filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the government.
Brady’s brief beat back a bid by two Maine men -- one convicted of hitting his girlfriend while intoxicated the other convicted of pushing his wife into a wall -- to once again have the ability to obtain firearms. After their DV convictions, both men were later convicted of unlawful firearms possession. The men challenged those convictions, claiming they did not disqualify them from firearm possession.
The men were not denying that they abused their partners; they were seeking to overturn their firearms convictions because they were convicted of a “less violent” type of domestic assault. They claimed that convictions based on abusive conduct that is reckless but not intentional should not disqualify them from possessing guns.
Because DV escalates over time, Brady believes that it is critical to keep guns out of the hands of every convicted abuser. Most women who are murdered are killed by intimate partners, and their abusers use a firearm in the vast majority of these cases. Victims of DV are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if there is a gun in the home.
In a 2016 decision, the Supreme Court once again sided with Brady. It held that a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). In ruling that Congress’s definition of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” provides no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior, the Court noted that a person who assaults another recklessly uses no less force than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally. Therefore, the Court found that § 922(g)(9) supports prohibiting respondents in this case from possessing firearms.
Brady is excited by this decision that follows the reasoning of our amicus brief that domestic abusers are dangerous, and dangerous people should not have free access to firearms. Victims and survivors of DV have a right to be free from violence and fear. Enabling abusers’ access to guns would fly in the face of those rights. This decision will protect women, children, and families across our country from death at an abuser’s hands.