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Friday, July 1, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defends right of domestic abusers to own guns

Compares domestic violence convictions to traffic offenses

EDITOR’S NOTE: While Clarence Thomas logic did not sway the Supreme Court, the RI General Assembly pretty much used the same logic to “shoot down” legislation to expand gun bans on domestic abusers. NRA money might have played a role, ya think?

As PolicyMic reports that “In February, the Voisine v. the United States case moved Justice Clarence Thomas, famously silent, to ask his first question during oral arguments in 10 years. “

At the time, he asked U.S. Assistant to the Solicitor General Ilana Eisenstein whether “recklessness” is reason enough to warrant a “lifetime ban on possession of a gun, which, at least as of now, is a constitutional right.”

“Give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right,” he asked, later suggesting that the convicted domestic abusers in this particular case should not lose their ability to carry guns because they never actually “used a weapon against a family member.”

Justice Kagan delivered the 6-2 opinion of the court on Monday explaining that: “the federal ban on firearms possession applies to any person with a prior misdemeanor conviction for the ‘use… of physical force’ against a domestic relation. That language, naturally read, encompasses acts of force undertaken recklessly – i.e., with conscious disregard of a substantial risk of harm.”

As Reason reports: “Writing in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, rejected the majority’s ‘overly broad conception of a use of force.’ In the Thomas-Sotomayor view, ‘the majority blurs the distinction between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing’ and thereby does a grave injustice to criminal defendants.”

In his dissent, Thomas writes that the law prohibiting gun ownership based on misdemeanor assault “is already overly broad;” Thomas goes on to claim that the law could divest others – such as mothers disciplining their children – of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Writing of the particular statute in question – Section 922(g)(9) – Thomas writes that the law “is already very broad.”
It imposes a lifetime ban on gun ownership for a single intentional nonconsensual touching of a family member.   A mother who slaps her 18-year-old son for talking back to  her—an intentional use of force—could lose her right to bear arms forever if she is cited by the police under a local ordinance.   The majority seeks to expand that already broad rule to any reckless physical injury or nonconsensual touch.  I would not extend the statute into that constitutionally problematic territory.
Thomas goes on to complain that this law could impose a “lifetime ban” for “all non-felony domestic offenses,” likening them to other summary offenses, such as receiving traffic citations:
Section 922(g)(9) does far more than “close [a] dangerous loophole” by prohibiting individuals who had committed felony domestic violence from possessing guns simply because they pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. It imposes a lifetime ban on possessing a gun for all non-felony domestic offenses, including so-called infractions or summary offenses. These infractions, like traffic tickets, are so minor that individuals do not have a right to trial by jury.
Continuing the analogy, he writes: “Under the majority’s reading, a single conviction under a state assault statute for recklessly causing an injury to a family member—such as by texting while driving—can now trigger a lifetime ban on gun ownership.”

Samuel Warde is a writer, social and political activist, and all-around troublemaker.