Domestic Violence and Gun Ownership

August 23, 2016

 

Let’s imagine two scenarios of misdemeanor domestic violence.  In the first scenario, a husband throws a plate directly at his wife and she suffers serious injuries. In the second scenario, a husband throws a plate against a wall where his wife is standing and the wife is similarly injured. The outcome in both these scenarios is the same:  the wife is harmed as a result of her husband’s violent behavior.  The difference, however, is in the husband’s mental state when he threw the plate.  In the first scenario, the husband threw the plate he did so knowingly and intentionally with the sole purpose of harming his wife.  In criminal law, the husband’s mental state would be called “intentional.”  In the second scenario, the husband threw the plate against the wall he did so with conscious disregard to the substantial risk that his wife would be injured.  In criminal law, the husband’s mental state would be called “reckless.”  The big question is whether both husbands should be treated the same, or whether an “intentional” act should be treated more severely than a “reckless” act, especially in the context of domestic violence.

           

“Intentional” versus “Reckless” Domestic Violence

The Supreme Court recently grappled with how to differentiate “intentional” and “reckless” domestic violence in the case of Voisine v. United States.  In Voisine, the petitioners were convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence under Maine state law, and were later convicted of violating the Lautenberg Amendment,[1] a federal gun-control law that prohibits any person who was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing or owning a gun.  The petitioners appealed their federal convictions to the Supreme Court, claiming that the Lautenberg Amendment only applied to “intentional” acts of domestic violence, and that their behavior towards their domestic partners was not intentional, but merely “reckless.”  The government argued that the Lautenberg Amendment was specifically established to protect victims of domestic violence from being shot by their intimate partners.   The law’s intent would be undermined if exceptions were made for individuals who claimed they only abused their spouses “recklessly.”  Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with the Government’s argument and concluded that both intentional and reckless acts of domestic violence were subject to the federal gun-control law.

 

The Deadly Mix of Guns and Domestic Violence

The ruling in Voisine v. United States is considered a big win for domestic-violence advocates.  For years, domestic violence advocates have tried to educate the legal community about the lethal combination of domestic abuse and access to firearms.  Studies confirm the following:

 

  • When an individual with a history of domestic violence has access to a gun, the individual is five times more likely to murder a family member or intimate partner.[2] 

  • Domestic assaults with guns are approximately twelve times more likely to end in the victim’s death than are assaults by knives or fists. [3] 

  • More than 65% of women who are killed by their intimate partner had previously been victims of domestic violence.[4] 

 

The Supreme Court in Voisine recognized that domestic violence is a crime of escalation.  “Reckless” domestic abuse can easily turn into “intentional” domestic abuse.  The Supreme Court closed a dangerous loophole in the Lautenberg Amendment and prevented victims of “reckless” domestic violence from turning into victims of homicide.  As a result of Voisine, a husband may throw a plate against a wall today, but we can make sure that he doesn’t have a gun tomorrow.

           

            If you are a victim of domestic violence and your family member, spouse, or intimate partner owns or possess a gun, please contact Attorney Muska Yousuf of the Denby Law Office to review your options.  Attorney Yousuf can be reached by email at myousuf@denbylawpc.com or telephone at 781-536-5826.

           

 

 

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[1] 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)

 

[2] Everytown For Gun Safety, amicus brief in support of respondent, page 8 citing Everytown for Gun Safety, Guns and Violence Against Women, www.everytownresearch.org/documents/2015/09/gun-laws-violence-women-infograph.pdf (citing Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Felon Seeks Firearm (2013), www.everytown.org/article/felon-seeks-firearm).

 

[3] United States v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638, 643 (7th Cir. 2010)(en banc)

 

[4] See Lawrence A. Greenfield, et al., Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice Report No.: NCJ-167237 (1998).

 

 

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