On February 29, 2016, the Supreme Court heard a case involving the Second Amendment, which gives citizens the right to bear arms. What added controversy to the case of Voisine vs. Untied States was the fact that the petitioner was a domestic violence offender. The case revolved around the constitutionality of Section 922, also known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which states that individuals that have been convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” aren’t allowed to own firearms or ammunition. Petitioners Stephen L. Voisine and William E. Armstrong filed to appeal the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The First Circuit Court affirmed the lower district court’s decisions that claimed both Voisine’s and Armstrong’s gun possession was a violation of Section 922 because of their convictions of domestic violence with the intent of recklessness. Both Voisine and Armstrong argued that the intent of recklessness was different than the intent to cause harm, and, therefore, the Lautenberg Amendment violated their second amendment rights to possess firearms.
On a national scale, it is easy to see why the Lautenberg Amendment, which was passed in 1996, is necessary in the United States. This is exemplified in the 72% of murder-suicides that involve an intimate partner (of those murder-suicides involving intimate partners 94% of victims are women). Guns pose a huge threat to women, especially those that are victims of domestic violence-related offenses, such as stalking, threats, harassment, and other crimes that may only provide an order of protection or restraining order. Simple pieces of paper that hold intimate partners accountable are not enough to control the actions of violent individuals. More must be done, and that is the purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment.
The Lautenberg Amendment currently faces a crucial fight in the Supreme Court. With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is now split with 4 liberal leaning justices and 4 conservative leaning justices (although Justice Kennedy provides occasional swing votes). With the question of the Second Amendment coming before the Supreme Court, conservative-leaning justices will likely feel more inclined to protect it and vote on striking the Lautenberg Amendment unconstitutional, on the basis that reckless acts of assault do not pose an increased threat to a greater population and therefore should not be held against individuals looking to possess firearms. The other possibility is that there will be a majority upholding the Lautenberg Amendment for the protection of a vulnerable population, which includes women and children (who are primarily the victims in domestic violence cases). Even reckless acts of violence against them can constitute as dangerous and harmful enough to society.
When a man lays his hands on a woman, or vice versa, reckless intent is not a fair description of the possible traumas that a victim can face due to the assault. Whether reckless or intentional, all violence comes from a place of harm and anger, which are both factors that can escalate from verbal or physical assaults to severe bodily injuries or even death. This is why the Supreme Court needs to uphold the Lautenberg Amendment and protect domestic violence victims from potentially becoming homicide victims.