• Australia has its own troubling domestic violence record. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Supreme Court just closed a loophole in gun control legislation, meaning safer homes for those most at risk of domestic violence.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

28 Jun 2016 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2016 - 4:47 PM

In 2003, Maine, USA, resident Stephen Voisine slapped his girlfriend in the face while he was drunk, and pleaded guilty to assault. 

Under US federal law, the conviction meant he was not allowed to own or buy a gun. 

So several years later, when an anonymous caller reported that he had shot a baby bald eagle with a rifle, he found himself in trouble with the law again.

In 2011 he was prosecuted both for killing an endangered bird, and for illegally possessing a gun after his domestic violence conviction.

Voisine pleaded guilty, but reserved his right to appeal, and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

The lower courts had consistently upheld his conviction on appeal before the matter came to the US Supreme Court for its consideration.

More than half of American women killed with guns in 2011 were murdered by intimate partners or family members.

Lawyers for Voisine and another defendant convicted of a misdemeanor domestic assault in Maine, William Armstrong III, argued that their crimes didn't qualify for the federal gun ban because their assaults were committed "recklessly," as opposed to knowingly or intentionally, and gun-rights groups argued that Voisine and Armstrong III should not lose their constitutional right to bear arms.

But in a win for anti gun violence organisations, the US Supreme Court has ruled that people who commit domestic violence "recklessly" should lose the right to own a gun.

In the majority decision, the justices rejected arguments that a gun-ownership prohibition should apply only to knowing or intentional, rather than reckless, conduct.

In this case reckless acts don't mean accidental, but rather where a person is aware of the risk that an act will cause injury, but not certain it will. The court used the examples of throwing a plate in the heat of an argument or slamming a door. 

The Supreme Court today affirmed what we know - domestic violence escalates and is often deadly.

"A person who assaults another recklessly 'use[s] force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally," wrote Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the majority opinion.

"Reckless conduct, which requires the conscious disregard of a known risk, is not an accident. It involves a deliberate decision to endanger another."

More than half of American women killed with guns in 2011 were murdered by intimate partners or family members, and when guns are present in homes where domestic violence occurs, the risk of homicide for women rises by roughly 500 per cent, according to research from advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety

The decision comes amid renewed debate about reducing gun deaths in America, in the wake of the June 12 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando  - the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

It has been welcomed by domestic violence advocacy groups, including Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, who said: "The Supreme Court today affirmed what we know - domestic violence escalates and is often deadly. Ensuring that convicted abusers do not have access to firearms will save lives."

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