Thousands convicted of a misdemeanor for threatening or assaulting a spouse or girlfriend could once again own guns because of a flaw in the federal law, reports the Los Angeles Times. That prospect grew more likely yesterday after the Supreme Court gave a skeptical hearing to a government lawyer who argued that a crime of domestic violence should result in a loss of gun rights. Neither families nor police officers should face “the powder keg situation of a domestic offender with a gun,” said Nicole Saharsky, a Justice Department lawyer.
She ran into sharp questioning from justices who said the law was badly written. Congress in 1996 sought to strengthen the laws against domestic violence. Before, only persons convicted of violent felonies in such situations lost their rights to own a gun. Going a step further, lawmakers adopted an amendment to take away gun rights for those who had a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” on their records. Last year, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals cast doubt on the law’s reach. It decided the federal gun ban did not cover misdemeanor convictions involving assault or battery at home. Instead, it said the federal ban applied only to those convicted under a state’s domestic violence law. That would make the federal gun law “a dead letter in two-thirds of the states,” according to the government’s lawyer. Saharsky said most states do not have misdemeanor laws specifically targeting domestic violence.