It was a busy morning for the Supreme Court. On Monday, the court struck down a Texas law that required Texas abortion clinics to have “admitting privileges,” and to be built up to hospital standards — even though neither make abortions much safer. It also reversed the bribery conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.
The Supreme court also decided an important case for the future of America’s gun death epidemic. In a 6-2 vote — a notable tally on the evenly ideologically divided bench — the court ruled in Voisine v. United States that domestic violence, even unintentional or “reckless” violence, still justifies limiting access to guns. As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion, “Reckless conduct, which requires the conscious disregard of a known risk, is not an accident: It involves a deliberate decision to endanger another.”
The details of the case are fairly thorny: The court ruled that all sorts of domestic violence, even cases in which the abuser simply “consciously disregard[ed]” the effects of his or her actions, in addition to those cases in which violence was committed “knowingly or intentionally”, are grounds for precluding access to guns.
But the effects of the case are vast: Thirty-four states and the District of Colombia have defined the Lautenberg Amendment, the legislation governing the dispute in question, as including “reckless” instances of domestic violence as grounds for prohibition of gun ownership. This decision expands that standard nationwide, broadening the definition of the only federal misdemeanor that prohibits firearm or ammunition possession.
After the Orlando massacre, as politicians and concerned citizens nationwide strained to find an answer for the kind of mass-casualty hate crime Omar Mateen carried out, a small handful pointed out an obvious red flag: Mateen was an extremely abusive romantic partner.
And although he had no criminal record in adulthood, as details about Mateen’s past became more widely available, so too did the argument that domestic violence is often a predictor of gun violence. Huffington Post reported today:
Domestic violence and guns are known to be a deadly combination. Experts say that if an abuser has access to a gun, victims are five times more likely to be killed. A study published earlier this year found that simply living in a state with a high rate of gun ownership increases a woman’s chance of being fatally shot in a domestic violence situation.
There is more than can be done to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, including requiring the subjects of restraining orders to temporarily turn in their weapons, and taking guns from accused domestic abusers awaiting trial.
But the court’s decision today emphasizes one of the most overlooked truths of gun violence in the United States: Victims often personally know perpetrators.
Of women murdered by men, 93 percent in 2014 were killed by someone they knew — and the majority were intimate partners of their killers. More than half of women killed with guns in 2011 were killed in domestic disputes. And, according to a study of every available mass shooting between January 2009 and July 2014, 57 percent of them involved the killing of a family member or a current or former intimate partner of the shooter.
Photo: A pile of handguns are placed in a trash bin after they were surrendered during a gun buyback program organized by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office in Los Angeles, California, December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian