Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that if prosecutors rewarded a man who abused his partner with a misdemeanor sentence instead of a felony conviction, there's no reason to restrict that guy's right to own a gun. That, at least, is what Scalia was arguing on Monday when the Supreme Court heard an appeal to the recent 4th Circuit ruling that only men convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence — a law that two-thirds of states don't even have — can have their gun ownership rights revoked under a federal law intended to keep abusers' hands away from firearms.When Congress passed legislation in 1996 strengthening the laws against domestic violence, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) introduced an amendment to protect women whose abusers pled out to misdemeanor assaults, which happens far too often. In order to cover the different ways states prosecute such men, the federal law currently states that men convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" cannot own guns. Last year, in the case of a wife-beater who wanted to get a gun, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia (of course) ruled that the law doesn't cover men — like the wife beater — convicted of assault and battery instead of "domestic violence." The government argued that Congress didn't intend for the law not to cover wife-beaters only convicted of regular beatings, and, like Lautenberg, argued that many wife-beaters plead out to misdemeanor counts. Scalia, though, wasn't buying:
JUSTICE SCALIA: And this was misdemeanor assault and battery, wasn't it? ASSISTANT SOLICITER GENERAL NICOLE SAHARSKY: Yes, that's right. I mean, I really - SCALIA: So it's not that serious an offense. That's why we call it a misdemeanor. SAHARSKY: Well, I mean, certainly the offense is this particular case was serious. The charging document reflects that Respondent hit his wife all around the face until it swelled out, kicked her all around her body, kicked here in the ribs- SCALIA: Then he should have been charged with a felony, but he wasn't. He was charged with a misdemeanor. JUSTICE GINSBURG: Wasn't the — wasn't the statute responding to just that problem, that domestic abuse tended to be charged as misdemeanors rather than felonies? And it was that fact that the Senator was responding to when he included misdemeanor. The whole purpose of this was to make a misdemeanor battery count for the statute's purpose.
Following this and other exchanges, advocates for the law assume the Supreme Court will uphold the 4th Circuit's ruling that will leave many abusers able to purchase guns — and only another act of Congress will be able to fix the loophole. Domestic Violence Abusers Could Get Gun Rights [LA Times]