Friday, March 6, 2009

A victims' victory

by Laura Smith-Gary

The Supreme Court says (even Alito says!) that criminals guilty of domestic violence can't own guns! Hurray!

The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that persons convicted of violence against someone with whom they have a domestic relationship are restricted from owning guns. If you read the case, it's not about gun rights, per se, nor about domestic violence per se -- it's about the intentions of Congress in passing a law that was apparently worded very badly. This law placed those convicted of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in the same class, gun ownership wise, as felons. The problem is that a number of states don't have an offense that is specifically "domestic violence," and those arrested for dv are charged for simple battery or assault. The Supreme Court ruled, 7-2, that if a domestic relationship between perpetrator and victim was established beyond all reasonable doubt, a conviction for battery would be considered a domestic violence conviction in terms of Congress's gun law.

I am not entirely qualified to discuss the finest legal points of reading and writing a law like this -- and apparently Congress isn't either, or is just sloppy -- but I do urge everyone to read the case for themselves: here it is in its entirety.

I will, however, discuss the people who think that this ruling is all the fault of the anti-male, anti-husband and father, anti-manly-pursuits-like-shooting-things, ball-busting feminist agenda. Virulent anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly, putting in her two cents when this case was in its infancy, highlights how little this case is about gun control to her and how much it is about the importance (or unimportance) of domestic violence. Schafly is just sickened that men who have "only" been convicted of battery against a member of their household are going to be considered to be on the same level, as far as gun ownership goes, as muggers! How dare we say such a thing!

Well, I don't know about you, Ms. Schafly, but between giving a gun to a violent criminal who wants my wallet and a violent criminal who shares my bedroom and who has proven he has no compunction about hurting me, I'm going to choose the mugger every time. With the mugger, I know what to do -- throw my wallet away from me on the ground, and run like hell. The mugger will have what he/she wants, and is unlikely to try to shoot me (and unlikely to hit a running target even if he/she tried). But there's no way to appease abusers and no way to give them what they want, because what they want is absolute control over their victims. Furthermore, running doesn't always work -- victims are often hurt and or killed if and when they try to leave and abuser. (That's not even taking into account the psychological damage of victims or possible "collateral" an abuser holds in the form of children, financial resources, access to vehicles, and so on.) Give a gun to the person whose crime is centered around controlling and hurting someone over whom he/she has intimate ties? That only sounds reasonable to a person who thinks that domestic violence isn't actually a very big deal, that victims deserved it or could have prevented it, and that abusers don't actually want to harm their victims.

This ruling, U.S. vs Hayes, is important for its practical consequences: if you've been convicted of battering or assaulting a member of your household or an intimate partner, you should not have a gun. Period. It's also important, though, because it draws attention to laws surrounding domestic violence, and the still pervasive perception that domestic violence isn't a serious crime or putting its victims in extreme danger -- it's more of a slip, an accident, a result of provocation. Schafly refers to men with "clean records" being unfairly deprived of their guns after a domestic "dispute," and says feminists want to "pretend a man is a felon even when he's not." It's extremely heartening to me that Congress and now the Supreme Court have recognized domestic violence for the menace it is, and acted accordingly. We're not "pretending" poor, provoked, harmless men and women who "make mistakes" and beat their partners/children/elderly parents are felons, Schafly, we're finally acknowledging them as the dangerous criminals they are.


At March 7, 2009 at 4:38 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

So after reading Schafly's article I was a bit scared. The beginning of the article was actually really good. If what she describes is true about restraining orders, then I'll definitely give her a thumbs up. It does seem completely unconstitutional for a father to be barred from seeing his children without due process. And before anyone makes a big stink, I'm not saying abusers should see their children, obviously, I'm talking about the whole due process bit, which is the funamental cornerstone of american liberty, right? Innocent until proven guilty?

right, but how can it be that someone that is so right about one thing, can then go and make such a ridiculous claim that domestic violence shouldn't be a felony. You are absolutely right, Laura, that this article does indeed highlight that Schafly is less worried about gun laws and more worried about domestic abusers being called felons.

Thanks for posting, *shudders*

At March 7, 2009 at 6:17 PM , Blogger LSG said...

I agree, Roscoe, when I started reading the Schafly article I was saying to myself "That's horrible! Oh my goodness! Due process!" Then I got to the end, which dealt with this case, and all my horror got re-directed at her.

Anyway, I looked up laws concerning restraining orders...if you're interested, here's a summary of restraining orders in New Jersey:

This eased my mind -- a victim can get a temporary restraining order authorized by a judge for 10 days or until a hearing, and a final restraining order after a full hearing in which the judge hears both sides of the story. This seems like a very good solution to me, allowing a judge to expeditiously protect a victim for a short time, but not negating due process or preventing an alleged abuser from giving his/her side of the story.

Getting a little off topic, I know, but I thought it was interesting -- and very interesting how Schafly spun it and provided some blatant misinformation, like the idea that a person accused of abuse has less opportunity to defend him/herself than if he/she got a traffic ticket.


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