Supreme Court Upholds Broad-Reaching Ban On Domestic Abusers Owning Guns

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(CBS News) — The Supreme Court is upholding the broad reach of a federal law that bans people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns.

The justices on Monday rejected arguments that the law covers only intentional acts of abuse and not those committed in the heat of an argument.

The case involved two Maine men who said their guilty pleas for hitting their partners should not disqualify them from gun ownership. The dispute drew interest from advocates for victims of domestic abuse who say the law applies to reckless behavior as well as intentional misconduct.

Gun rights groups argued that the men should not lose their constitutional right to bear arms because of misdemeanor abuse convictions.

A federal appeals court ruled against the men.

In the oral arguments in this case, Justice Clarence Thomas had stunned lawyers, reporters and others at the Supreme Court when he posed questions for the first time in 10 years.

Thomas peppered Justice Department attorney Ilana Eisenstein with several questions about Second Amendment gun rights, a topic no other justice had asked about. He noted that the law allows someone convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge to get a lifetime ban on possessing a gun “which at least as of now results in suspension of a constitutional right.”

In one of the cases, Stephen Voisine pleaded guilty in 2003 to simple assault after slapping his girlfriend in the face while he was intoxicated. In 2009, an anonymous caller reported that Voisine had shot a bald eagle with a rifle. He was then convicted under the gun law.

The other case involved William Armstrong III, who pleaded guilty to simple assault in 2002 after pushing his wife during an argument and leaving a “red mark.” Eight years later, police searching Armstrong’s home discovered six firearms and ammunition.