Law enforcement, domestic violence organizations and gun control groups won an important victory in the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, reports NPR. The justices ruled unanimously that people convicted of minor domestic violence offenses are barred under federal law from possessing a gun, even though some states do not require proof of physical force for conviction of domestic violence. James Castleman of Tennessee challeged his federal indictment for illegal gun possession. Backed by gun rights groups, he contended that a previous conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence was not serious enough to disqualify him from possessing a gun because state law did not require proof of physical force.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged that minor uses of force may not constitute “violence” in the generic sense. But, she said, context is everything in domestic violence cases. Thus, a squeeze that causes a bruise to the arm may not normally be described as violence but “an act of this nature is easy to describe as ‘domestic violence’ when the accumulation of such acts over time can subject one’s intimate partner to the other’s control.” If a “seemingly minor act like this draws the attention of authorities and leads to a successful prosecution for a misdemeanor offense,” she said, it qualifies as a crime of domestic violence. Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said, “It is a telling indictment of the gun lobby’s extremism that not a single justice agreed with its call to explode a gaping hole” in the federal law.