Wow, With This Level of Understanding of How Government Works, It's Hard To Believe We Struggle to Have Meaningful Public Discourse

I don't have any particular comment on the Supreme Court decision in Voisine v. United States, but I have to highlight the headline that was just shared with me on Facebook:

Another Big Win: SCOTUS Just Banned Domestic Abusers From Owning Firearms

Um, pretty sure that is not what happened.

First, convicted domestic abusers generally are already banned from owning firearms.

Second, I am fairly certain that SCOTUS did not ban anything (not surprising since they don't have a Constitutional power to ban anything).  There was some legal uncertainty in the definitions of certain terms in a law (passed by Congress and signed by the President) that restricted gun ownership based on certain crimes.  This dispute over the meaning of these terms bounced back and forth in the courts until the Supreme Court took the case and provided the final word on how the terms should be interpreted by the judicial system.

This decision strikes me as a pretty routine sort of legal result fixing a niche issue in the interpretation of terms of the law.  How niche?  Well apparently Voisine was convicted (multiple times) of "“intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” hurting his girlfriend.  The facts of the case made it pretty clear that he was beating on her on purpose, but he argued that due to the "or" in the wording of the crime he was convicted of, as far as the law is concerned he might have only been convicted of recklessness which shouldn't be covered under the gun ownership ban.  Really, this silliness should never have reached the Supreme Court, and did (in my interpretation) only because second amendment questions were involved, questions stripped off by SCOTUS.  Freed on any Second Amendment implications, SCOTUS rightly slapped his argument down as stupid and said he was subject to the ban.  Seems sensible to me, and this sort of thing happens literally constantly in the courts -- the only oddball thing in my mind was how this incredibly arcane niche issue made it to the SCOTUS.

Instead, the article is breathless about describing this incredibly niche case as closing a "gaping loophole."  It is written as if it is some seminal event that overturns a horror just one-notch short of concentration camps  -- "This is a win for feminism, equality in the home, and in finally making movements on reigning in this country’s insane, libertarian approach to gun-owning."    And then of course the article bounces around in social media, making everyone who encounters it just a little bit dumber.


  1. herdgadfly:

    According to Rory Little at SCOTUS Blog, in Voisine v. United States the question settled was: whether a prior conviction for a “reckless” domestic assault qualifies as a federal “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is, for defendants in the thirty-four states that have reckless assault statutes, not an unimportant question. Such a conviction leads to a ban on firearms possession under federal law and raises the possibility of a ten-year sentence for those who violate that prohibition.

    Last Term, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in Johnson v. United States that a similar, but not entirely identical, prior-conviction statute was void for vagueness because it yielded no certainty regarding which particular prior state convictions should count federally. Obviously the scales of justice shifted without Scalia.

  2. BobSykes:

    Every time I have purchased a firearm I have had to certify that I have not been convicted of spousal abuse. It's one of the questions on the mandatory application form.

  3. kidmugsy:

    I loved "reigning in": it seems suitable for a precious princess.

  4. obloodyhell:

    }}} making everyone who encounters it just a little bit dumber.

    Not really, since anyone who reads it was already almost certainly a liberal moron, just for reading things at places that would reprint this.

    Jus' Sayin'....

  5. markm:

    I would suggest that a lifetime ban on exercising a constitutional right is not something that should be tacked on AFTER sentencing, but something that should be requested by the prosecution and approved by the judge AT sentencing, with the specific reason(s) documented. This not only reduces the overbreadth issues, such as putting it on record that Voisine was intentionally violent, but it also handles a fairly common problem with mentally-impaired petty criminals: They claim that they didn't know gun ownership was banned for them.

    In some cases, they can plausibly claim that they didn't even know they were convicted of anything - let alone of something that the feds classify as a felony, although to the state it's a misdemeanor with a potential long sentence that hardly anyone serves. This is because the courts are so clogged up that suspects who can't make bail will often sit in jail BEFORE trial until they've served the time they would if convicted. Then their public defender makes a bargain for them to plead guilty and get out of jail. You or I would understand that we'd admitted to the crime and been convicted of it. A moron only understands that the lawyer had him memorize some words and repeat them in court, and then he was free.

  6. GoneWithTheWind:

    I knew a divorce lawyer who freely admitted he always insisted on a PO (protective order) and claims of spousal abuse. With these two things he could extort the most spousal and child support payments from the victim (oops, I mean husband).