U.S. Supreme Court toughens gun ban for domestic violence

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday expanded the types of domestic violence convictions that can trigger the loss of gun ownership rights in a ruling issued amid fierce debate about reducing firearms violence in America.

The justices, in a 6-2 ruling, rejected arguments that a gun-ownership prohibition should apply only to knowing or intentional, rather than reckless, conduct.

In dispute was a U.S. law passed two decades ago preventing people convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from owning a firearm. Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the law was enacted “to close a dangerous loophole” because many perpetrators of domestic violence were charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Kagan said the U.S. Congress was targeting domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws, and that “reckless assaults” would be covered.

The issues of gun rights and gun control have been high in the national debate since 49 people were killed by a gunman on June 12 at an Orlando gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Following the incident, gun control legislation was voted upon and defeated in the U.S. Senate, while House of Representatives Democrats staged a sit-in demanding action on gun control.

The latest gun case was brought to the Supreme Court from Maine by two men who, separately, pleaded guilty to domestic assault and then years later were charged with illegally possessing firearms. Both men had argued that they should not be subject to the gun prohibition because their prior convictions were based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a supporter of gun rights, wrote a dissent criticizing the ruling for blithely trampling on gun rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

“This decision leaves the right to keep and bear arms up to the discretion of federal, state and local prosecutors,” Thomas wrote. “We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly.”

Thomas wrote that during oral arguments in the case, “the government could not identify any other fundamental constitutional right that a person could lose forever by a single conviction for an infraction punishable only by a fine.”

It was in this case that Thomas ended his self-imposed decade of silence from the bench on Feb. 29, asking a question during an oral argument for the first time since Feb. 22, 2006.

At that time, he pressed an Obama administration lawyer with the question, “Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?” 


Inner Sanctum

Being a Mormon, I really liked your article “The Inner Sanctum” (Sept. 2), however, there is some information you received, that I am not sure you understood correctly. It’s the question of “literal truth.” While we do believe that the Book of Mormon is historically true (that is, it talks about events that really took place and people who really lived — we don’t take it as mythopoeia), we don’t think that it is inerrant true.

The title page of the Book itself says that there could be errors of men in it.

As Mormons, we do not believe that man can be infallible, and therefore we cannot understand something inerrant. As soon as God communicates with us, he has to speak in a way we understand. Hence, the church’s second prophet, Brigham Young, said that he doesn’t know of an inerrant revelation, nor does he believe that such could be possible.

René A. Krywult
Vienna, Austria

Armed and President

Let’s see … you rarely feature a woman in a Jewish Journal cover story, but this week you managed to do so and you pick one who is an NRA president (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). I presume none of the women in the community who work for positive, socially responsible, peaceful, meaningful and enriching causes were available for an interview. (The exception being, Roberta Schiller, quoted in the article in opposition to Sandra Froman’s advocacy of private gun ownership.) Maybe it’s just me; perhaps there just aren’t enough firearms lying around out there — or armed individuals, with or without a permit to carry.

J. Levitt
North Hollywood

Sandra Froman opposes restrictions on gun sales and makes a strong case for women’s need to have guns for protection against predatory men. OK, let’s require gun shops to demand every customer present an ID, plus a doctor’s certification that the applicant is female.

Macy Baum
via e-mail

In your cover story about Sandra Froman, your writers quote Roberta Shiller saying, “The idea that just because you have a gun, it will make you safe is just untrue.” Runyan and Ivri should check the validity of statements before allowing someone to use their story to misrepresent the truth.

According to The Department of Justice’s own National Institute of Justice study, titled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” it is estimated that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year.

The article cites further misstatements by “gun control” advocates and presents a totally different perspective than Schiller.

Phil Blum
Los Angeles

Christian Zionists

In the Sept. 2 issue of The Jewish Journal, James D. Besser wrote a very negatively biased and short-sighted article regarding Christian Zionists (“Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril”). Besser’s polarized commentary, replete with many unfounded statements, sought to influence the readers to view Christian Zionists as an element that threatens the life blood of Israel.

Christians who believe in a Jewish Israel have, many times, sacrificed their own livelihoods in the communities in which they lived/live and given of their own life blood to help Jews escape certain annihilation not only during the Holocaust, but during the times in which we now live, waiting the coming of Moshiach.

Chana Leah Mendelsohn
Los Angeles

The ‘Other’

David Myers exhorts us to have sympathy for various other people besides those whom we saw evicted from their homes in Gaza (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26).

Unfortunately, at this point in time, this goal is entirely unreachable and totally unrealistic. Judaism does not teach us to “Love your enemy” and until proven otherwise, the Arabs must be considered our enemies.

A neighbor is someone with whom you live, if not in harmony, then at least in civility. When will we be able to consider the possibility that that we can engage the “other” in the manner Myers would like?

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

Honest Reporting

I was intrigued by the remark made by Walid Al-Saqaf in the Aug. 26 Jewish Journal editorial by Rob Eshman (“Honest Reporting”). The Yemeni journalist said that journalists can pressure Arab and Muslim leaders to “level with their people” and confront the region’s real problems — the lack of development and the dearth of democracy and accountability. What interested me was the idea that journalists had the power to influence leaders.

But journalism is no longer the proud profession that it was, dedicated to the truth. Just as in Nazi Germany, it has become the tool of a country’s leaders, whether the leader be a sheik or a Texas rancher, and I doubt any journalists today are ever going to try to pressure any leaders or even to devote themselves to the truth again.

Mal Cohen
Woodland Hills

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On Guard in the West Bank

Is this me? Eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening, I’m strolling down the ordinary street of my town, carrying an M-16 rifle. Tonight, it’s my turn again to do shmirah, guard duty, a chore required about once a month of every male resident here at Beit Yattir, the West Bank village where I live part time.

The slender M-16 is a meter long and weighs about 7 pounds. I like it. I appreciate the smooth simplicity of its design, and its oiled, metallic weight feels good in my hand. And beyond the physical satisfactions of a gun, I understand that I am in the presence of the Angel of Death. Fear and reverence abide with me as well.

I shove the curved ammunition clip up into its shaft, where it locks in with a satisfying thump and click. As a safety drill, I pull the bolt back twice to check visually that no bullet is in the chamber; then I move the selector switch from safety to semiautomatic and, aiming the rifle away from the houses, pull the trigger. Click. No bullet. The gun is at rest, all its power latent.

Part of what I like about shmirah is that it so clearly distinguishes my Israeli present from my American past. In my past, there are no firearms. My grandfather, who escaped from the Czar’s army, circa 1900, was the last male in the family to do military service. We’re urban American Jews, lovers of peace and the life of the mind; less nobly, we shrink from the notion of responsibility for our own protection.

I slip behind the wheel of the security Jeep, tucking the M-16 into the space between the front seats. With another man — and another rifle — for company, I’ll spend the next five hours slowly driving the roads of our village, concentrating on the dark, unpaved perimeter roads (most of them no wider than the vehicle), shining a searchlight over the black, rocky landscape as if expecting to pinpoint intruders coming to disturb our nighttime quiet.

In actuality, an intruder would have to be a half-wit to get caught by the Jeep’s searchlight. Anyone out there would see our lights coming from far away, lie still behind a rock, and wait for us to pass.

Shmirah is partially symbolic: We are letting our Arab neighbors know that we are on guard and that, as driveway signs sometimes put it in the United States, any intrusion will be met with an armed response.

My training for this duty was minimal. First, a fellow resident named Itamar, a skinny, cheerful guy about 30, taught me to handle the unloaded rifle — how to hold it, how to stand balanced for the best shooting, how to fire. We were in his living room, with two of his children, 3 and 5 years old, looking on with interest — mostly at me, since I was a stranger, whereas the weapon was a familiar object. It felt peculiar to stand aiming a rifle at the bookshelves in this pleasant fellow’s parlor.

A week later, some 15 of us went for practice to the outdoor shooting range in the nearby village of Maon. About half in the group were women who, though free of the obligation of shmirah, wanted gun training in case they ever needed to use one. We were coached through firing 15 rounds with an M-16 (five standing, five kneeling, five lying down) and then an equal number with an Uzi — the rifle stock kicking back into the shoulder, the explosive blasts sharp in the ear. Afterward, we strolled down across the no man’s land between us and the targets to see how well we had done. There the holes were, some of them pretty good shots, chest or stomach high, definitely sufficient to stop the human animal. I was ready.

My shmirah partner and I chat as we drive, getting to know each other, then gradually fall silent, thinking our own thoughts. A wild rabbit, panicked by our spotlight, leaps away over rocks. In the early part of the evening, residents out for a walk or returning by car from work wave a greeting to us. At 9:30, we open the main gate for the local bus to Beersheba. The evening drags on. Around 10:30, the boys playing on the basketball court finally switch off the lights and disperse to their homes. Two dogs bark continuously in the Arab village below us. For a while, we park up on the hillside to enjoy the elevated view: the roofs and yards of our village, the highway traveling through hillsides to Jerusalem, the lights of Jewish and Arab towns stretching to the horizon. Then we go on our rounds again.

Shortly before 1 a.m., we wake two of the young soldiers sleeping in a trailer at the north edge of the village. Three soldiers are assigned to Beit Yattir on two-week rotations, and one of their jobs is to take over late-night guard duty on foot, walking the perimeter fences and checking the gates until sunup.

They are slow to wake. We wait outside until they stumble from the trailer with their M-16s slung over their shoulders, zipping up their khaki army jackets against the cold. We hand over the two-way radio that will connect them to the regional security base near Hebron, then park the Jeep. At last, my shmirah partner and I are finished.

Back in my house, I extract the ammunition clip from the M-16, check the chamber again, lean the rifle against the bedroom wall, to be returned in the morning. Something about even these small formalities excites me, as if I am a little boy playing soldier, pretending danger and courage.

It is a foolish pretense, I remind myself. Although there has never been a terrorist intrusion at Beit Yattir, the neighboring village has not been so lucky; it is not completely out of the question that I will one day be forced to face my fellow man with my weapon and his between us.

But not tonight. Tonight, I can enjoy the ordinary peaceful quiet of our rural village. Nonetheless, before I go to sleep, I double-lock the door. This, I note, was always my final gesture of the day in America, too. There, no less than here, a brutish danger lurks outside somewhere, unpredictable. Double-locking the door behind me, I recognize myself again.

David Margolis writes from Israel. He can be reached at djmargol@netvision.net.il.