In the middle of all the excitement about the Supreme Court’s big abortion decision on Monday, the court handed down another, smaller, win for liberals: It ruled that those convicted of domestic violence offenses can be barred by federal law from buying or owning a gun for life — even if the conviction only demonstrates that someone acted recklessly violent, as opposed to intentionally or knowingly violent, toward a partner or spouse.
Voisine v. United States is a fairly technical ruling in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still important because of what the court didn’t do. The court could have decided that gun laws don’t cover domestic violence crimes in which the abuser’s intent isn’t clearly violent — and that could have, depending on how some states and the feds apply their domestic violence laws, limited the scope of federal restrictions on guns for domestic abusers. But the court instead allowed federal gun restrictions to remain more broad.
(For more on the case’s legal details, read Rory Little’s great preview and analysis at SCOTUSblog.)
This touches on a very important aspect of America’s gun problem. Although much of the US gun debate focuses on mass shootings, domestic violence contributes to many more deaths and injuries — especially when a gun is involved. But it doesn’t have to be this way, as Emily Crockett wrote for Vox:
Domestic violence in particular is extremely predictable. It’s common for police to be called multiple times, sometimes dozens, for domestic violence incidents before a victim is ultimately murdered by her abuser. Recidivism rates for domestic abusers are high. And a substantial body of research shows that victims of domestic violence, particularly women, are put at much greater risk of being murdered when a gun is involved.
So if we care about protecting victims, there’s already a lot of incentive to get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And indeed, there are already some laws in place to do this. Federal law prohibits the sale or possession of guns for anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, or anyone who is subject to a domestic violence restraining order. Some states have laws that allow or require law enforcement agents to seize any guns found at the scene of a domestic violence incident.
By moving to not limit laws that can take guns out of these abusive households, then, the Supreme Court gave gun control advocates — and those interested in preventing deadly domestic abuse — an important, if small, win.