The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on whether a conviction for domestic violence precludes Americans from obtaining a firearms license. The Obama administration has argued that ending the prohibition would invalidate bans in much of the US.
The Justices announced Tuesday they would hear eight cases of the more than 2,000 appeals that accumulated over the summer. Among them is an argument from James Alvin Castleman, who maintains that his misdemeanor domestic assault conviction in Tennessee does not prevent him from legally owning a gun.
Castleman pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor assault charge in 2001. Federal law forbids the purchase, possession, or transportation of guns and ammunition by people convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of violence.”
Federal authorities investigating a murder in Chicago, Illinois years later discovered that Castleman and his wife were illegally dealing weapons on the black market. Castleman’s wife would purchase the guns legally in her name then give them to Castleman, who resold the guns.
When he was arrested on gun charges in 2009, Castleman contested the federal indictment, claiming the he was not convicted of using physical force in his domestic assault case eight years before. A judge and the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals concurred, ruling that his conviction did not qualify as domestic violence which requires “the use or attempted use of physical force,” as outlined under federal law.
“Castleman’s indictment does not provide a basis from which we conclude that his domestic assault conviction entailed violent physical force,” the Cincinnati, Ohio-based appeals court wrote. “Castleman may have been convicted for causing a minor injury such as a paper cut or a stubbed toe.”
A government certiorari petition asked the Court to determine whether Castleman’s “Tennessee conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault by intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to the mother of his child qualifies as a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under the ban.
The Obama administration has said that ruling the Tennessee law unconstitutional would nullify similar laws in many states throughout the US. The 1996 federal law barring gun possession for domestic violence offenders “would be rendered largely inoperative,” the administration wrote.
The Supreme Court’s review, which is scheduled to take place in January, happens at a time when Congress has sought to add more domestic violence-related offenses - including temporary protective orders and stalking crimes - to the prohibition list.
A 2011 assessment of FBI crime data by the Violence Policy Center found that 94 percent of female homicide victims were killed by a man they knew. The male spouse was the killer in 61 percent of such incidents.