xml:space="preserve">

Every year nearly 5 million women in the U.S. are threatened, injured or killed by abusive husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends. Domestic violence at the hands of intimate partners is one of the most ubiquitous crimes against women nationally as well as one of the least visible; one in four women will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner during their lifetimes, yet the vast majority of cases are never reported to police. And the chance that an incident of intimate partner violence will result in serious injury or death to the victim rises exponentially when there is a firearm within easy reach.

This week the Supreme Court moved to reaffirm the broad reach of federal protections for women threatened by abusive partners when it upheld a law that bans people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns. In a 6-2 decision written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court ruled that even misdemeanor assault convictions for domestic violence are sufficient to bar abusive partners from owning or possessing firearms. In doing so the court decisively rejected gun rights advocates' argument that the law should not apply in cases where a violent incident resulted from a partner's "reckless conduct" rather than from intentional abuse.

Advertisement

The case, Voisine v. United States, involved two men from Maine who were convicted in state court of misdemeanor assault charges after slapping or shoving their intimate partners. Stephen Voisine pleaded guilty to assault in 2004 for slapping his girlfriend while drunk. William Armstrong III pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife in 2008.

Several years later, police got a tip that Mr. Voisine had shot a bald eagle with a rifle. Police arrested him, and he was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the federal firearms ban stemming from his domestic violence conviction. A few years after Mr. Armstrong's assault conviction, police searching his home as part of a narcotics investigation found firearms and ammunition; he was sentenced to three years probation under the same federal law.

After Maine's highest court upheld their convictions, both men appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the law was only intended to cover intentional or knowing acts of abuse, not those committed "recklessly," defined as an act carried out with the awareness it may cause injury but no certainty that it will. Justice Kagan dismissed that line of reasoning, noting that Congress had enacted the gun ban for abusive partners to specifically "prohibit domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws from possessing guns" and that to exclude such misdemeanors would "substantially undermine the provision's design."

In recent years Maryland has witnessed far too many high-profile cases in which women have fallen victim to gun violence by abusive partners. Police say Gladys Tordil was gunned down by her husband, Eulalio, while waiting to pick up her daughter in a school parking lot earlier this year; Ms. Tordil had been granted a protective order against her husband that directed him to surrender all firearms in his possession, yet he now faces charges in the shooting of her and five other people, two of the fatally, before being arrested by Montgomery County police.

In 2012, Hagerstown resident Heather Harris and her sister were both fatally shot less than a month after she sought court protection from her abusive ex-boyfriend, Randy McPeak. In 2009, Sheena Blandford of Lothian was killed by Theodore Blandford only a few weeks after she forgot to check a box on her application for a protective order requesting police to confiscate her husband's gun.

Clearly none of the perpetrators of those crimes had any business owning a gun. It's impossible to know whether those women's lives might have been saved if authorities had been able to confiscate their abusers' weapons earlier, but it's obvious that whether the killers acted with malicious intent, or merely "recklessly," the result was the same and the court in this case was right to uphold that principle.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement