Supreme Court Domestic Violence Ruling Impacts Arizonan’s Gun Rights

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Abuse, Domestic Violence, Judges

Supreme Court Domestic Violence Ruling Impacts Arizonan’s Gun Rights

In a recent ruling, The U.S. Supreme Court strengthened federal law that prohibits those individuals found guilty of domestic violence from owning a gun.  Under the 9-0 ruling, even individuals that have plead to a a misdemeanor charge would be prohibited from having a gun.  This ban extends to cases where there is no proof of violent acts or any physical injury.

Prior to this ruling, the courts through the country have had various views on the issue of gun ownership as it relates to domestic violence. These inconsistent interpretations of the law lead to drastically varied lower court rulings.

In the 9th District Court, which includes Arizona, the ban was only limited if there was a conviction for “violent use of force.” This means that many people could have maintained their gun rights because they had been offered and plead to a “lesser charge” (one that wasn’t defined as having included the violent use of force).

It was the interpretation of “violence” vs. “domestic violence” that made the difference for the U.S. Supreme Court.


Writing for the majority, Justice Sotomayor reasoned that the domestic violence extended beyond the traditional definition of violence.  She wrote that actions should be considered domestic violence “that one might not characterize as ‘violent’ in a nondomestic context.”  She went on to say that even “seemingly minor acts” could be considered domestic violence.  She provided possible examples of domestic violence that might not otherwise meet the Court defined interpretation of violence.  In other words, acts such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, hair pulling and “a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise,” could be considered domestic violence.

In concurring with the opinion, Justice Scalia disagreed over the definition put forward by Sotomayor.  He didn’t see need for a distinction between the terms “violence” and “domestic violence,” reasoning that they encompassed the same sorts of actions.

Several commentators have expressed concerns over the impact this ruling might have over American’s Second Amendment rights.  The case does concern gun rights, but the individuals bringing the case received only a “courtesy nod” to arguments regarding the Second Amendment. In other words…the Court didn’t even consider Second Amendment arguments.

Initially that might seem odd, but after thinking about it, it is understandable.

Though the Second Amendment allows Americans to own firearms, like any law, this right can be limited in response to criminal action on the part of the individual.  Here, the individuals that are at risk of losing gun rights will have to have either been convicted or plead guilty to some sort of domestic violence charge.  Because of this conviction, this means that the courts would be well within their rights to restrict gun ownership.

This ruling is a great victory for families.

The concern in domestic violence cases is that the prior violence could be an indicator that something more drastic might take place in the future.  Even when there are seemingly minor domestic violence situations, the volatility is too risky to allow the possibility for gun violence. Some may argue that the fact that the gun ban extends to instances where there were no actual violent acts committed is too restrictive because no harm has been caused.  However, courts don’t typically issue a domestic violence ruling on mere words without a legitimate concern that the individual will act upon them.

Direct threats to violence can’t be taken lightly.

The decision was 9-0 (meaning all members of the court were in favor of the ruling).  Typically, the Court doesn’t rule unanimously except in rare situations.  The U.S. Supreme Court is filled with exceptional legal thinkers from different ends and political mentalities.  To get them to agree is no small feat.  Based on the nature of the case and their reasoning, it’s clear that each member of the Court felt strongly about these issues.

The day-to-day impact of the ruling remains to be seen.  Currently, if an individual has restricted rights regarding their ability to own a weapon, they can face charges if a gun is discovered in their possession. There are also possible implications regarding the restoration of gun rights to individuals who are cleared of charges.  In the coming months and years, it’s reasonable to expect that this case will have a great impact on how the country approaches gun ownership and domestic violence.

You can read the full text of the opinion here.

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