‘Gun Rights’ of Domestic Abusers

The right-wing-controlled U.S. Supreme Court has put the supposed right of Americans to carry their firearms of choice over the safety of individuals who are potential victims of gun violence. That pattern may be tested again in a case to let some domestic violence offenders keep their guns, as Laura Finley explains.

By Laura Finley

The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear a case involving whether persons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors should be prohibited from possessing guns.

The case involves James Castleman, who in 2001 pleaded guilty under Tennessee law to one count of misdemeanor domestic violence against the mother of his child.  In 2009, Castleman was found in possession of several guns, which was prohibited by a 1996 law that made it illegal for those who have misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence involving physical force or a deadly weapon to possess guns.

Three key members of the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia; Chief Justice John Roberts; and Justice Anthony Kennedy. (From the official Supreme Court photo in 2010.)

Allegedly, Castleman was purchasing weapons and selling them illegally. An appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio ruled that the federal law does not apply in Castleman’s case because his domestic violence conviction did not involve physical force.

As a long-time domestic violence advocate and scholar who has written extensively about the subject, I am deeply concerned about the implications should the Court overturn the federal legislation.

First, we know that guns and domestic violence are a lethal mix. Numerous studies have found that the chance of a homicide increases dramatically in domestic violence cases in which the perpetrator has a gun. For instance, a study reported in the journal Trauma, Violence & Abuse found that domestic violence assaults were 12 times more likely to end in a fatality when a gun was involved. Of all females killed with firearms, almost 2/3 were murdered by intimate partners.

Another study by Jacqueline Campbell of Johns Hopkins University found that guns were used in 88 percent of homicides sampled, while David Adams, author of Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, found that guns were used in 92 percent of domestic violence murder-suicides. The Violence Policy Center reported that, in 2010, more women were shot and killed by partners than by strangers using all other weapons combined.

Second, many offenders are able to plea down to misdemeanor offenses when what they really did would be a felony. Were the Supreme Court to exclude misdemeanors that do not involve physical force, the result might be that some very dangerous people who were able to use the ubiquitous plea bargain system in the U.S are allowed to possess lethal weapons.

Third, advocates know that domestic violence is patterned behavior that escalates over time. Thus while it may not start with physical force, the non-physical forms of abuse (threats, intimidation, verbal harassment, etc.) are important signs that the abuse is likely to become physical at some point. To exclude those who are convicted of non-physical forms of abuse is a failure to understand the dynamics of domestic violence that are well-documented in scholarly research.

Fourth, there are tremendous issues already with enforcement of the existing laws related to domestic violence and firearms. A 2002 Report to the Ranking member of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary found that between 1998 and 2001, more than 2,800 people who had misdemeanor domestic violence convictions were able to purchase guns without their conviction being detected by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Those who purchase guns at gun shows or online are not subject to background checks, thus their misdemeanors or felonies are not detected. Additionally, some state laws, like those in Florida, do not explicitly require the removal or surrender of firearms at the scene of a domestic violence incident. If three years have passed since the misdemeanor conviction, Florida law allows abusers to purchase guns.

In many states, the law only requires removal of weapons in the event of final or permanent restraining orders, not when the orders are temporary. Yet the danger of retaliation against victims is most acute when the orders are temporary.

I could go on and on, but I will not. I only hope that the Supreme Court has the wisdom and compassion to realize the consequences of any ruling that makes it easier for abusers to obtain guns.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

10 comments for “‘Gun Rights’ of Domestic Abusers

  1. The Idiot Whisperer
    October 7, 2013 at 00:16

    Anyone who calls themselves a ‘scholar’ in a non-ironic way cannot be taken seriously. This is an adjective only another person can bestow upon you.

  2. Thinkaboutit
    October 5, 2013 at 21:24

    People like big words like “domestic violence.” You get the picture of some mean abusive husband who repeatedly beats his wife…. Well yeah, “maybe” he should be allowed to have a gun. But what about the 19 year old who gets into a fight with his 18 year old brother….. and pleads guilty to domestic violence. Should he be banned from ever having a gun? What about room mates???….who eventually aren’t room mates anymore. What about a young couple who live together….get stupid drunk and into a fight… they break up, meet new people and live happily ever after with other people with no future fights….. ban them from owning a gun???

    What’s next?? Anyone EVER convicted for an assaultive misdomeaner? ANY misdomeaner? I’m all for felons not owning a gun. BUT in my state if you write a bad check, or even a check that BOUNCES you could potentionally be convicted of a felony!!! What does THAT have to do with guns??

  3. La Belle Dame Sans Merci
    October 5, 2013 at 14:02

    As a former victim of domestic violence, I find it heartbreaking that still today so many people are condemned to live in fear. People still want to ignore this problem, and ignore the fact that this violence often escalates over time. Simply changing a law will not end the abuse, but it would be a positive step in the right direction in my humble opinion.

  4. rosemerry
    October 4, 2013 at 14:46

    I find the comments terrible sad, and I continue to thank my lucky stars not the be a member of the wonderful democratic exceptional Homeland, with lots of guns, full prisons and a military owning the world.
    As for the SCOTUS: to see the quality of judges who are “chosen” from over a million to inhabit the Supreme Court of the USA is a devastating indictment of the qualities of judgment and fairness emanating from the POTUS, present and past.

    • Ghost
      October 4, 2013 at 15:26

      My comment was meant to be sad, it is the sad state of affairs of operating under a Constitution of No Authority (L. Spooner)

  5. UnwashedMass
    October 4, 2013 at 14:40

    The american people have proven (and everyone else on Earth, but we speak only of the U.S. here) that they are not responsible or sensible enough to own guns, dogs, cars, or to have children. I am in favor of taking all these things from you idiots. At this awkward age of this country that no longer is, nor can be what we think it was, it is impossible not to have a gun because so many of you are so murderously stupid and rude. I hereby call for a Stasi of manners. You hillbillies.

    • HoiPolloi
      October 4, 2013 at 14:48

      You mean “A Brave New World”! That is a good idea. But seriously…. Do you not wonder why things are so? No, no, think harder. Make more effort, take more time and give it all a good think. Then chuck it all and go live a pastoral existence. Or, as is more probable and practical, a post-industrial homeless existence.

  6. Ghost
    October 4, 2013 at 11:58

    Regardless of how weapons of any kind are used, the constitutional mandate remains, supposedly inviolate.

    This post reminds of the “there otta be a law” syndrome.

    The weapon to abuse a spouse could be anything.. a fist, a club, a knife,…

    So to please this person’s idea of safety, we must violate the constitution, so the many can be denied for the insanity of the few.

    We either have a constitutional republic or we have communism? all in the name of safety or anti-domestic abuse?

    There is a constitutional solution to the author’s perceived dilemma. It’s an amendment or repeal of the 2nd amendment. Why not take the lawful route instead of expecting the judges to force unconstitutional measures on us?

    This would have avoided the civil war, if the Republicans had gotten an amendment to the constitution, instead of forcing their ‘bible crap’ on the entire nation.

    It the innocent parties that always seem to suffer because of the idiocy of the few. Drug head morons used over the counter drugs, now all of us with allergies or breathing problems are punished at the drug store.

    Republicans evidently go insane, rape women, etc if they smoke a joint of MaryJane, but why must the rest of us suffer for their dilemma? Normal people find it the equivalent, or a better option than booze..and medical science proves that God knew what He was doing when he created that miracle plant.

    Domestic abuse is the crime against a person.. not the gun, not the club, not the fist, — you can kill your spouse with any of these and with many more items. Emotional abuse can be as deadly to another person as the physical abuse.

    So violating the constitution is not the solution, unless you want to use the ‘repeal the amendment’ method. That still won’t solve the domestic abuse problem.

    I doubt all the anger management crap, and psychological mumbo jumbo will help either. Usually a joint will calm a person down.

    Owning a weapon or not owning a weapon is not a litmus test for domestic abuse prevention. It’s merely a ‘feel good’ approach that does little to nothing to stop the abuse. A few words on a piece of paper, ie laws, will not stop anyone from abuse, or getting a weapon illegally to abuse with.

    It’s like this.. a psychopath or sociopath, or whatever today’s ‘know nothing’ brain doctors’ buzzwords are, will continue with or without a gun, or get one illegally. The words on the paper mean nothing to him or her.

    Find another solution, for this one will fail all litmus tests for solutions, constitution, and real law.

  7. Dylan
    October 4, 2013 at 10:57

    The 2nd Amendment guarantees my right to bear arms. Quit trying to take that away! The constitution is LAW! Get you head out of your ass you Right-Winged Idiot!

    • Robert Mason
      October 6, 2013 at 23:00

      The 2nd amendment also says well regulated, and for the purpose of a state militia.

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