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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Washington (AFP) – The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments as it struggles to determine whether domestic violence offenders could be barred from possessing a firearm even if they have only committed minor offenses.

The high court’s nine justices took up the case of James Castleman, who argues that his domestic assault conviction in Tennessee for intentionally or knowingly causing “bodily injury” to the mother of his child did not prohibit him under federal law from owning a gun.

Investigators later learned that he was illegally trafficking guns, and Castleman was charged with violating a ban on gun possession for people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

One of the guns Castleman trafficked was found at the scene of a crime in Chicago.

But an appeals court said the federal law only bars people from carrying a gun when they have committed domestic violence using physical force.

So the Supreme Court justices spent most of the hearing trying to define what type of domestic violence could trigger a federal conviction for gun possession, in contrast with actions that only cause injury.

“If I punch somebody in the nose, is that violence?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Do you have to have a special rule for if I punch my wife in the nose?

“Any physical action that hurts somebody is violence, isn’t it?”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked: “How about pinching or biting, hair pulling, shoving, grabbing, hitting, slapping… Would they in all situations be violence?”

The decision by the highest court in the land, expected in June, could have a major impact, especially if it questions existing federal law, which is stricter than most state gun possession laws.

The federal law “was enacted to protect battered women and children and to close a dangerous loophole… that allowed domestic abusers to possess firearms,” said Melissa Sherry, an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general.

Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress have proposed to boost criminal background checks for gun purchases.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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  • BeverlyNC

    Yes, physical attacks on another person are “violence”. Punching someone in the nose, Justice Scalia, will get you arrested for “assault”. We keep pedophiles registered and away from children zones. We take children away from abusive parents. We supposedly don’t let felons own guns. We run campaigns against bullying. Why are we not protecting victims of domestic abuse, primarily women, which is definitely bullying and violence? Domestic violence in a relationship always escalates with 2 outcomes. The woman realizes her life is in danger and finds the courage to run or the abuser murders her. Why would we openly condone letting a domestic abuser own a gun? Of course, this would require criminal background checks. The NRA will scream. Why do we protect victims of violence and abuse in certain situations but hand guns to those most likely to use them for the ultimate use of violent intent?

    • Sand_Cat

      It appears that this decision will not be a “struggle” for Scalia, nor likely for Thomas, at least.

  • leadvillexp

    While I am against most gun laws as they are written I feel the domestic violence law is necessary. It should be defined and allow judges to hold hearings before any weapons are returned to the owner. All weapons, not just guns should be removed until the case is resolved and then the judge can render a dicison on returning the weapons. A judge should decide each case on its own merit.