The U.S. Supreme Court buttressed a federal ban on gun possession by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, saying the law applies to a West Virginia man convicted of beating his wife under a general state battery law.
The justices, voting 7-2, rejected Randy Edward Hayes’s contention that the federal law affects only people convicted under laws specifically addressing domestic violence. Hayes was seeking to overturn his conditional guilty plea.
The ruling means the 1996 gun law will apply nationwide, not just in the roughly 25 states that have misdemeanor assault laws specifically for domestic relationships.
“Firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court. It is “highly improbable” that Congress only meant to extend the federal ban on felon gun possession “to the relatively few domestic abusers prosecuted under laws rendering a domestic relationship an element of the offense,” she said.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, saying the federal statute was so ambiguous that Hayes didn’t have “fair warning” he might be in violation. Hayes was sentenced to five years of probation, including six months of in-home detention.
The decision was the high court’s first firearms decision since its declaration last year in a case from Washington, D.C., that the Constitution protects individual gun rights. Tuesday’s ruling dealt only with statutory questions, not constitutional ones.