Voisine v. United States | Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Voisine v. United States

Voisine v. United States involved a challenge to the federal law that prohibits individuals convicted of misdemeanor assault or domestic violence from owning guns. In Voisine, two men previously convicted under Maine law for misdemeanor domestic violence – one hit his girlfriend while drunk and the other pushed his wife into a wall – were arrested and convicted of unlawful gun possession. Police had arrested one of the men for shooting a bald eagle, and the other for owning six guns, which were discovered as part of a drug investigation. While the men didn't deny their domestic abuse convictions, they argued that their domestic abuse crimes could be based on "reckless" rather than "intentional or knowing" conduct, and that reckless domestic violence is not serious enough to trigger the federal prohibitions on gun ownership.

In January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the plaintiff's arguments. The plaintiffs then petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for review. In January 2016, the Brady Center filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court, written by attorneys from Covington & Burling, arguing that no convicted domestic abuser, intentional or reckless, should have access to firearms.

On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling 6-2 to affirm that reckless domestic assault qualified as "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," and was therefore subject to the federal ban on gun possession for those convicted of these crimes. As two-thirds of states have laws for misdemeanor crimes extending to recklessness, an adverse Supreme Court decision would have created a dangerous loophole for many misdemeanants convicted of assault or domestic violence to access firearms.

"This case is about protecting women, children and families across the country, who shouldn't have to worry that their abusers can access a deadly weapon," said Jonathan Lowy, Director of Brady's Legal Action Project. "Enabling domestic abusers to buy guns would erode those rights and fly in the face of common sense."