Be honest, now: you thought I’d never finish this series, did you? (Part 1 was posted June 28.)
In Voisine v. United States, a 6-2 U.S. Supreme Court holding issued on June 27 approved extending a federal statute banning firearms possession by anyone convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to include individuals who have “misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted to knowing or intentional) conduct.”
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said that “the federal ban on firearms possession applies to any person with a prior misdemeanor conviction for the ‘use…of physical force’ against a domestic relation. That language, naturally read, encompasses acts of force undertaken recklessly—i.e., with conscious disregard of a substantial risk of harm.”
The opinion isn’t remarkable, nor is it a significant attack on gun rights. The case is really about language, as so many Supreme Court cases are. From the opinion:
“Congress’s definition of a “misdemeanor crime of violence” contains no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior. A person who assaults another recklessly “use[s]” force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally. The relevant text thus supports prohibiting petitioners, and others with similar criminal records, from possessing firearms.”
The real question, from an ethical standpoint, is whether Congress can and should remove a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on a misdemeanor conviction for domestic abuse. Is that fair? Sure it is. It is already settled law that it is Constitutional to prevent convicted felons from owning guns, even if it was a non-violent felony. From an ethical public policy standpoint, why would it be overly restrictive to ban gun ownership from those who engage in a violent misdemeanor?
Writing in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor (of all people), rejected the majority’s “overly broad conception of a use of force.” In the view of the two dissenters, “the majority blurs the distinction between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing” and thereby does a grave injustice to criminal defendants. Continue reading