Washington D.C., June 27, 2016 — Today the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a narrow interpretation of a federal law forbidding people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing a gun, a major victory for advocates to prevent gun violence and domestic violence.
Voisine v. United States involves two men in Maine who owned guns despite being convicted of domestic violence. The men don’t deny they abused their partners; but because they were convicted of a “reckless” rather than “intentional” crime of domestic violence, they claimed they should not be disqualified from having guns.
Both men were convicted of unlawful firearms possession after they were convicted of domestic assault – one for hitting his girlfriend while drunk and the other for pushing his wife into a wall. Police later arrested one of the men for shooting a bald eagle with a rifle and the other for owning six guns, which was discovered as part of a drug investigation.
Their suit argued that their domestic abuse convictions were not serious enough to keep them from owning guns. But, this morning, the Supreme Court rejected their arguments. The Court held in a 6-2 decision that convicted reckless misdemeanor abusers are not allowed to own guns. As the Supreme Court recognized, the challenged law was passed by Congress 20 years ago to “close a dangerous loophole in the gun laws.” Although felons were already prohibited from owning guns, many instances of domestic violence are charged as misdemeanors, not felonies.
“Today, the Supreme Court recognized what we know to be true: No person convicted of domestic violence should have access to a gun – ever,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “We also know that when there is a gun in the home, victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser. Today’s decision will protect families across the country from the fear and danger posed by abusers armed with guns.”
Given the link between guns and domestic violence, the Brady Center has been a strong advocate for keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. For that reason, the Brady Center filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Voisine, written by a team of pro bono attorneys from Covington & Burling, which argued that any type of violence against a partner should disqualify a person from owning a deadly weapon like a gun. In addition, two other law firms from the Brady Center’s pro bono network authored amicus briefs in Voisine. Hogan Lovells’ brief represented Child Justice and White & Case wrote for the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.