On Wednesday, the U.S Supreme Court made a unanimous ruling disagreeing with James Alvin Castleman, who had argued that the definition of “physical force,” which ultimately barred him from owning a gun, was more violent under the federal statute than in Tennessee’s, to which he pleaded guilty. Therefore, Castleman said, he was not guilty of illegal gun possession. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in cases of domestic violence, pushing and grabbing can be sufficient to bar federal gun possession.
Congress’s definition of domestic violence includes a requirement that physical force should exist, and in rejecting Castleman’s argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor recognized that actions considered domestic violence are different from what would apply to public violence against a stranger:
“Minor uses of force may not constitute ‘violence’ in the generic sense. … But an act of this nature is easy to describe as ‘domestic violence,’ when the accumulation of such acts over time can subject one intimate partner to the other’s control. If a seemingly minor act like this draws the attention of authorities and leads to a successful prosecution for a misdemeanor offense, it does not offend common sense or the English language to characterize the resulting conviction as a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.’”
The ruling means that a conviction against Castleman related to his black market sale of guns can stand. As Nicole Flatow writes, “The prohibition of domestic violence offenses is a major component of federal background checks, accounting for more than 14 percent of rejected federal firearms transfers . . . Congress added misdemeanor offenses to address the prevalence of domestic gun violence.”