guns and domestic violence

Domestic_violence_gunsI’ve argued for some time that, if we are serious about preventing serious crime, then we address behavior at an early stage — i.e. when it’s just abusive and not the cause of serious injury. Now the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has agreed that a proved abuser of another’s rights can be properly deprived of the right to own a tool, whose sole purpose is to perpetrate an assault from a distance. Mr. Castleman of Tennessee is prohibited from owning a gun because over a decade ago he was convicted of having abused a spouse.

Castleman pleaded guilty to “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury to” the mother of his child, and the knowing or intentional causation of bodily injury necessarily involves the use of physical force. First, a “bodily injury” must result from “physical force.” The common-law concept of “force” encompasses even its indirect application, making it impossible to cause bodily injury without applying force in the common-law sense. Second, the knowing or intentional application of force is a “use” of force. Leocal v.Ashcroft, 543 U. S. 1, distinguished. Pp. 10–13.

While there is, of course, no evidence, the fellow’s name, Castleman, may well account for why he was moved to challenge further punishment for what he plead guilty to in the first place. He may simply have pled to what he considered a nuisance charge, given that “a man’s home is his castle,” after all. Now, how’s he supposed to protect his castle, if he can’t have a gun?

Never mind that the statistics all indicate that a gun in the house poses a threat to all the people living there — a threat that is actualized on a daily basis.

…death certificate data indicate that 680 Americans were killed accidentally with guns each year between 2003 and 2007. Half those victims were under the age of 25.
Nonfatal gun injuries occur at the average rate of 20 a day in the United States — and that doesn’t include pellet-gun injuries (which average 45 day) or injuries that don’t involve a bullet wound (like powder burns and recoil injuries).

While that rate is less than are killed in/by motor vehicles every day (40,000 a year), since guns are designed and made to kill, the carnage can’t by any stretch of the imagination be defined as incidental. Letting so many people expire in the prime of life is itself abusive.

As I’ve observed often enough, when authority stands silent in the face of abuse, it becomes complicit. This time, the SCOTUS spoke up, in unison.

Justice Scalia had to write a separate opinion to quibble about the meaning of “physical force.” He doesn’t want it extended to “offensive touching.” I think that’s telling in the context of my frequent contention that the sense of touch is either weak or missing in persons inclined towards the conservative persuasion. Sight and sound are meaningful; being touched less so. And some, of course, are totally “out of touch.” So, Scalia can rule out the mere possession of a gun because the sight of it constitutes a threat.

Castleman should have left well enough alone. The primary charge against him involved selling weapons on the black market. So, challenging that he wasn’t entitled to have them in the first place seems to have been prompted by pride. Now millions of domestic abusers have definitively lost the right to go armed into the fray. We can thank James Alvin Castleman for that.

For more background, see Amy Barasch’s assessment in Slate.

Editor's Note: This story also appeared at Hannah's Blog.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."