Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Federal Court Strikes Down Ban on Possessing Guns While Subject to a Domestic Violence Protective Order Based on History and Tradition
The case is here: US v. Perez-Gallan (W.D. Tex. Nov. 10, 2022)
Yet it wasn’t until the mid- to late-1970s before states enacted laws enabling civil protection orders barring domestic abusers from further abusing the victim.33 And it wasn’t until the mid-1990s—around the time Congress created § 922(g)(8)—that every state had some sort of civil protection order statute.
Protective orders for domestic violence then, are also a recent legal invention. And because they are so recent, a much deeper historical inquiry is needed to satisfy Bruen’s historical requirement. Thus, the Court’s straightforward historical analysis digs deeper to uncover how this Nation has historically punished domestic abusers.
This straightforward historical analysis, however, reveals a historical tradition likely unthinkable today. Domestic abusers are not new. But until the mid-1970s, government intervention—much less removing an individual’s firearms—because of domestic violence practically did not exist.
A reason for that was how infrequently domestic abusers were prosecuted. For example, the Plymouth Colony court records from 1633 to 1802 represent the only jurisdiction where the prosecution of domestic violence has been studied over a long time frame.
And during that almost 200-year period, only 12 cases involving wife beating were prosecuted.36 Zero complaints during that time were for child abuse.37 Another study of the six New England colonies from 1630 to 1699 confirmed the same—only 57 wives and husbands were tried on charges of assault. One explanation for such low prosecution numbers is that “a second judicial system, the church court, existed alongside the magistrate’s court.” And church courts relied more on public shaming than anything else.
That said, religious communities handed out the most severe consequences. Indeed, colonial New England, dominated by Puritans, imposed the harshest punishments on domestic violence offenders. For instance, a 1672 court sentenced a man convicted of abusing and beating his wife to be whipped with ten stripes or pay a five pounds monetary
fine to the court.***
The Puritan’s moral law, however, was not the British common law. And as society moved into the eighteenth century, Puritan morality dissipated. Indeed, like domestic violence historian Elizabeth Pleck stated, any prosecution of domestic violence charges at that point “were remnants of a much more extensive form of social policing that ended with the demise of the Puritan experiment.”
This is not to say society encouraged or turned a blind eye toward spousal abuse. Quite the opposite. One judge in 1914 stated that “wife-beating is one of the most contemptible of crimes.” Or as another scholar recounts, private citizens sometimes rebuffed abusers. Indeed, railroad workers in 1886 responded to the sounds of an assault from a nearby home by accosting the husband and taking him to the stationhouse. Or the woman who fended off a would-be abuser with a shotgun while harboring the battered wife in her home. Or the tarring and feathering of abusive husbands. Stories like these appear to have been common.
But glaringly absent from the historical record—from colonial times until 1994—are consistent examples of the government removing firearms from someone accused (or even convicted) of domestic violence.