Federal Court of Appeals upholds disarmament of abusers

Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of a federal law that prohibits individuals with misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence from owning firearms. Steve Skoien, a repeat batterer from Rock County, Wisconsin, challenged the validity of the federal statute after he was convicted for possessing a gun while on probation for a domestic violence offense. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV) praised the court of appeals’ important ruling.

“The 7th Circuit’s decision means victims and law enforcement officers in Wisconsin will continue to be protected by laws that keep guns out of the hands of abusers,” said Patti Seger, executive director of WCADV. “Numerous studies show victims are much more likely to be killed when abusers have access to guns.”

Opponents of gun restrictions argued the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Heller, rendered gun laws-like those applying to domestic abusers-unconstitutional. The 7th Circuit relied on language in the Heller decision that indicated these laws are constitutional.

The court wrote, “If…disqualification to non-violent felons (embezzlers and tax evaders, for example) is presumptively constitutional, as Heller said…, it is difficult to condemn [the law restricting abusers’ access to guns], which…is limited to violent crimes.”

The court also ruled that “logic and data establish a substantial relation between” the law and the goal of preventing repeat domestic violence homicides. It noted, “The presence of a gun in the home of a convicted domestic abuser is strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide.”

Researchers have concluded that an abused woman is six to eight times more likely to be killed if a gun is in her home.

“The Supreme Court recently held the core of the second amendment allows law-abiding citizens to protect themselves in their homes,” said Seger. “Domestic abusers by definition have injected violence in the home and put their families at risk. Just as law-abiding citizens have a right to own a gun for self-defense in their homes, domestic violence victims have the right to be free in their homes from the terror and increased risk of death that comes when abusers have guns.”

Seger said the 7th Circuit’s decision should spur policymakers to better enforce the restrictions. Last legislative session two bills would have improved the ability of Wisconsin police to enforce the laws. The bills did not pass the state senate.

“Between 2000-2008, 156 Wisconsinites have been killed by domestic abusers who had easy access to guns,” Seger continued. “Some of these victims might still be alive if current gun restrictions were vigorously enforced. The court’s decision confirms that our legislators and elected officials should act decisively to keep guns out of the hands of violent abusers.”

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