Mar 09, 2009

Firearms Restrictions for Domestic Abusers

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In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Sixth Amendment has made it more difficult to convict perpetrators of domestic violence, and its interpretation of the Second Amendment has made it more difficult for communities to enact gun control legislation -- thus the Court's forgiving interpretation of a federal gun control law that made it a crime for perpetrators of domestic violence to carry a gun came as something of a surprise.

In United States v. Hayes (2009), the Court reviewed a law (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9)) that made it a federal crime for people who had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to own a gun.  Hayes was convicted of violating this law; he owned a few guns, and 10 years earlier had been convicted of misdemeanor battery.  The woman that Hayes had attacked was his then-wife -- however, his conviction was for "simple battery."  Hayes argued that he did not violate Sec. 922(g)(9) because he had been convicted only of battery, not of domestic violence.

The Court admitted that Sec. 922(g)(9) was badly drafted. If you enjoy reading about semi-colons, you might enjoy reading the Hayes opinion in its entirety (PDF).  At the end of the day, however, the Court evidently thought it a dangerous precedent to hold Congress to the same writing standards as first-year law students.  The Court interpreted Sec. 922(g)(9) to apply to ownership of guns by people whose previous convictions were based on acts of domestic violence, regardless of whether they were convicted specifically of domestic violence.  Since Hayes' victim was his then-wife, he could be properly convicted of violating Sec. 922(g)(9). Thus, Hayes is one of the few recent Supreme Court decisions to bring some cheer to those who think the country ought to do more to reduce gun and domestic violence.