Supreme Court Disarms Domestic Abuser


Back in January, we reported on the case of United States v. Castleman, in which James Castleman of Tennessee argued that he should not be banned from having guns, even though he had pled guilty in 2001 to misdemeanor domestic assault against the mother of his child. Under the 1996 Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban—known as the Lautenberg Amendment after its chief advocate, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)—any individual convicted of such a crime would be prohibited from owning a gun.

But Lautenberg specified that the misdemeanor must include “the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon,” and Castlemen’s defense was that he had not pled to using force.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court was not impressed with the argument. Today they ruled unanimously that his crime did constitute physical force and that he can’t possess a gun. (The whole issue came up when he and his wife were found to be buying firearms and selling them on the black market.)

As Gaylynn Burroughs pointed out in the Ms. Blog story,

The term ‘domestic violence’ includes many offensive acts intended to exert power and control over the victim. These acts usually form a pattern of abusive behavior that escalates in frequency and severity over time. We know that what starts out as pushing, grabbing, spitting, or shoving will too often turn into more aggressive violence and that access to guns increases the likelihood of fatality.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court saw fit to continue offering some measure of protection to women being abused by making it harder for her abuser to have a gun.

Photo from Flickr user Boston Public Library under license from Creative Commons


Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.