Nearly twenty years ago, Congress passed a law to help keep guns out of the hands of people already convicted of domestic violence. Since then, gun dealers have stopped about 250,000 sales to domestic violence offenders attempting to purchase a weapon. But now a new threat to the law may remove its teeth by allowing tens of thousands of prohibited domestic abusers to arm themselves.

On January 15th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in United States vs. Castleman, a case concerning the federal ban on gun possession by individuals convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” Castleman, a convicted domestic abuser and gun trafficker, challenged the two counts of violating this prohibition on the grounds that the federal law only covers convictions involving “strong” or “violent” physical force, and said his does not qualify. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.

The term “domestic violence” encompasses a range of behaviors in addition to physical violence, including sexual, verbal,and psychological abuse. If the Sixth Circuit’s decision is allowed to stand, domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanor assault or battery in most states would be legally permitted to possess firearms.  Allowing this to happen would put the lives of domestic violence victims at serious risk. The Supreme Court must enforce the federal law as it is written. A full assessment of the case is available on the blog of the American Constitution Society.