A day after a gunman opened fire on unsuspecting parishioners in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the United States Air Force admitted it failed to enter the shooter’s domestic violence court-martial into a federal database. No criminal record on file allowed the gunman to legally purchase firearms, including the rifle he used to kill 26 people.
In 2012, the Air Force court-martialed Devin Patrick Kelley for domestic violence and barred him from owning or buying guns. But in 2016 he legally purchased a rifle he used in his attack on the First Baptist Church during Sunday services.
Washington took a big step forward in the advancement of victims’ rights in July, becoming the first state to enact a law requiring law enforcement to alert victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or other court protection orders when their abusers attempt to buy a gun.
Late last month, Russian lawmakers decriminalized some forms of domestic assault. The amendment to the criminal code was passed 380 to 3 by Russia’s lower house and rubber-stamped by the upper house. President Vladimir Putin signed the amendment into law on February 7.
Under the law, if the victim—adult or child—is not “seriously” physically injured, and there has been no other incident of violence within the past year, the abuser will be subject to a maximum prison sentence of 15 days, community service, or only a fine. Prior to the amendment, the assailant would have been subject to a maximum sentence of two years.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanors can be barred from owning firearms. The vote was 6-2, with three liberal justices joined by three conservatives. In recent days, the case, Voisine v. United States, had attracted significant attention amid turmoil in Congress over stricter gun control measures.
Imagine this. A victim of domestic violence lives with her 3-year-old daughter in her rental apartment. Her violent ex-boyfriend is released from prison after serving time for previous assaults against her. He unleashes another attack, gashing her head with a broken ashtray and leaving a four-inch stab wound in her neck. Before passing out, the victim begs her neighbor not to call 911. Why? If someone calls, the victim and her toddler will be evicted under her town’s nuisance ordinance.
The Unintended Reach of Nuisance Laws
This victim, Lakisha Briggs, is one of many victims across the country faced with eviction due to the enforcement of local public nuisance ordinances.
More than one million women report being stalked every year. Given the number of cases that likely go unreported, the number is no doubt even higher. While online stalking -- or cyberstalking -- still remains a somewhat understudied crime, the number of reports related to online harassment are increasing. The effects of stalking on the victim are significant. Victims experience anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and depression. They are also more likely to be victims of physical violence and homicide. A full 85 percent of female attempted homicide victims were stalked prior to being attacked.
Earlier this month in the 8-1 decision Elonis v. United States, the United States Supreme Court rejected the standard used by the overwhelming majority of appellate courts in prosecuting federal cyberstalking crimes. In so doing, the Court made it harder for victims of online threats to achieve justice.