Domestic violence survivors, victims and advocates won a victory today when the Supreme Court, in a 6-2 opinion delivered by Justice Kagan, upheld a federal law banning perpetrators of domestic violence from owning firearms. The court ruled that reckless acts of domestic violence, in addition to intentional acts, are considered misdemeanor crimes that warrant restriction of gun ownership.
The defendants in two cases brought to the Supreme Court were arguing that reckless acts of domestic violence should not be treated with the same gravity as intentional acts. The Court disagreed. Given what we know about the dangerous combination of gun ownership and domestic violence, this ruling is a victory for victims, advocates and stakeholders in the battle against domestic and intimate partner violence. The inclusion of a question regarding firearms in the Lethality Assessment Program now utilized by many jurisdictions to predict risk of death for domestic violence victims is an important indicator of the increase in dangerousness when a weapon is present.
While one reporter stated that the case “was not one of the more important cases of the term,” those whose lives are impacted by DV and IPV would surely disagree. This law will surely save lives as we move forward. The evidence for this is simple and takes many forms:
- Between 1990-2005 firearms were used to kill more then two-thirds of domestic homicide victims
- A victim of domestic violence is five times more likely to be killed if her abuser owns a firearm
- Domestic assaults involving a firearm are twelve times more likely to result in death than assaults with other weapons or bodily force
Similar statistics are in abundance, and today the Court took a huge step in ensuring that these numbers decrease in the coming months and years. This comes on the heels of a significant local victory, in which Governor Malloy signed a bill that will protect domestic violence victims by prohibiting ownership of a firearm by anyone who is the subject of a temporary restraining order.
These advances afford hope and new protections to victims, survivors, and advocates. Yet as evidenced by the assertion of one reporter that this case was somehow less important than others before the Court, there is still much work to be done. So with this victory – we forge ahead!
Kimberly Citron, Director of Domestic Violence, Research and Education