Whenever the U.S. Supreme Court rules on guns these days, Americans who fear a reckless reading of the Second Amendment hold their breath. After all, it was the Roberts court that found for the first time an individual right to bear arms in the Constitution, although not an unlimited one.
Fortunately, the court last week upheld the sensible limits set in a 1996 law barring people convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms. The vote was a convincing 7-2.
In 2004, police went to the home of Randy Edward Hayes in Marion County, W.Va., after a 911 call reporting domestic violence. The officers found a rifle (and, later, evidence that he recently had several more firearms). Because he had been found guilty in 1994 for battery of his then-wife, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of illegally possessing firearms.
Unfortunately, the West Virginia battery statute was a generic one; it did not contain specific wording about a domestic relationship. The conviction was overturned on appeal, then the case moved to the Supreme Court.
Thank goodness sanity reigned and the appeals court decision was reversed, because many states -- Pennsylvania among them -- have generic use-of-force statutes not specifically referencing domestic relationships.
If decided the way Chief Justice John Roberts wanted, the case could have gutted the law that protects thousands of spouses, overwhelmingly women, and children. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her majority opinion, such a reading "would frustrate Congress' manifest purpose. Firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide."
Here was a domestic abuser who had guns. Justice Roberts' parsing of the law couldn't change that set of facts. In the real world of hard and dangerous lives, victims will rejoice that seven other justices did the right thing.