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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

[US] Gun rights may be restored to thousands convicted of assault

Domestic violence abusers could get gun rights
The Supreme Court will decide whether people convicted of misdemeanor assault against their spouses or partners should have their 2nd Amendment rights restored because of a flaw in federal law.
By David G. Savage
November 11, 2008
[Excerpts] Thousands convicted of a misdemeanor for threatening or assaulting a spouse or girlfriend could once again own guns because of a flaw in the federal law. That prospect grew more likely Monday after the Supreme Court gave a skeptical hearing to a government lawyer who argued that a crime of domestic violence should result in a loss of gun rights... Congress in 1996 sought to strengthen the laws against domestic violence. Before, only persons convicted of violent felonies in such situations lost their rights to own a gun. Going a step further, lawmakers adopted an amendment to take away gun rights for those who had a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" on their records. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the amendment's sponsor, said he was closing a loophole. In domestic violence cases, local prosecutors often agree to have defendants plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault or battery, which usually calls for less than a year in jail, he said. "There is no reason for someone who beats their wives or abuses their children to own a gun. When you combine wife beaters and guns, the end result is more death," Lautenberg said in the Senate before the amendment was enacted. But last year, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia cast doubt on the law's reach. Its judges decided the federal gun ban did not cover misdemeanor convictions involving assault or battery at home. Instead, it said the federal ban applied only to those convicted under a state's domestic violence law. That would make the federal gun law "a dead letter in two-thirds of the states," according to the government's lawyer. Saharsky said most states do not have misdemeanor laws specifically targeting domestic violence... The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said a ruling for Hayes "could re-arm thousands of convicted domestic violence abusers." About 14% "of all police officer deaths occur during a response to domestic violence calls," the group said. On the other side, the Second Amendment Foundation said the "fundamental right" to own a gun should not be taken away over a misdemeanor. [Full article here]

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