February 25, 2009 in Nation/World

Ban on guns for abusers upheld

Misdemeanor convictions included, high court rules
David G. Savage Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court upheld the broad reach of a federal gun-control law Tuesday and said that no one who has a conviction for any crime of domestic violence may own a firearm.

The 7-2 decision strips gun rights from tens of thousands of persons who were convicted or had pleaded to an assault against a spouse, a live-in partner, a child or a parent. These crimes include not just felonies but misdemeanors.

“Firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Gun-control advocates and law enforcement officials praised the ruling. On average, more than three people are killed each day by domestic partners, said the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. About 14 percent of police officers who are killed in the line of duty die in response to a domestic violence call, the group said.

Since 1996, federal authorities have turned down more than 175,000 prospective gun buyers because of domestic violence charges, according to the Brady Center. Most of them could have had their rights restored had the court ruled the other way.

Tuesday’s ruling did not involve the Second Amendment and its right to “keep and bear arms.” Last year, the high court ruled law-abiding persons had a constitutional right to have a gun at home for self-defense, but it said felons can be denied gun rights.

In 1968, Congress made it illegal for felons to own a gun in the United States. Lawmakers in 1996 extended this ban to include those convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

Until Tuesday, however, it had been unclear who is covered by this provision. Only about half the states have laws that make “domestic violence” a crime. Across the nation, prosecutors often charge offenders with an assault or battery.

Two years ago, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the federal gun ban did not extend to state charges involving assault or battery. Randy Hayes, a West Virginia man, had challenged the federal law after he was convicted of illegal gun possession in 2004. He was found with three guns in his house in 2004. Ten years earlier, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery against his then wife.

Ruling for Hayes, the appeals court said this “generic battery” conviction did not count as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” and it freed him from the federal charges.

The Supreme Court overturned that ruling Tuesday in United States v. Hayes and restored the broad view of the federal law.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email