The Supreme Court Agrees that Domestic Violence and Guns Don’t Mix

Posted on March 26, 2014

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Today, the Supreme Court issued an incredible unanimous decision in a case that will make it easier to protect domestic violence victims from gun violence. In an opinion for an eight Justice majority, the Court confirmed that any crime involving unwanted physical touching by a domestic partner can qualify as a crime of domestic violence for purposes of the federal prohibition on domestic violence offenders owning firearms. This resounding victory will ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of domestic abusers–a group particularly likely to use firearms to perpetrate violence.

A gun in the hands of a domestic abuser can make a dangerous situation worse. Studies have shown time and again that guns escalate already violent situations, for example:

  • Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.
  • Domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 23 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force.
  • More than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1980 and 2008 were killed with firearms.
  • In 2011, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners.

Indeed, as the Supreme Court’s majority opinion recognized these facts, stating:

Domestic violence often escalates in severity over time and the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood that it will escalate to homicide. ‘All too often,’ as one Senator noted during the debate over [this law], ‘the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.’

Currently, federal law bars persons convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms. In this case, the defendant had argued–and the lower court had ruled–that a person must be convicted of a domestic violence crime that requires an element of “strong and violent physical force” in order to be excluded from firearms ownership by virtue of the conviction.  In United States v. Castleman, the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected that theory and found that Congress intended to cover all domestic violence crimes whether or not “strong and violent” force was involved.

The Law Center was proud to contribute to the defense of this vital law. We joined an amicus brief written by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, alongside the Coalition to Stop Gun ViolenceMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in AmericaStates United to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center, that argued that the proper interpretation of federal law includes all domestic violence crimes, not just those involving “strong and violent physical force.”  The brief outlines the social science research demonstrating a strong connection between domestic violence of any type and guns.

For more, read our analysis of federal and state law regarding gun prohibitions on domestic abusers or read about other recent gun violence prevention success stories.