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Editorial: Hunt for victims' rights

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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

Here at the newspaper, we’re big fans of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. But we understand the need for and exuberance some individuals feel for the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What we as laypeople see there is a right to keep firearms for self-defense. The Second Amendment makes no mention of the right to keep a firearm for sportsmen to hunt deer, bears, turkeys, moose, or any wild animal that could possibly be in season anywhere in the United States.

The Brady Bill, in effect since 1994, outlines who may not own guns. Those who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor are among the individuals who are prohibited from owning or possessing guns.

But a case reheard en banc in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has the potential to change that. You can read about the case in this issue of Indiana Lawyer.

In United States of America v. Steven M. Skoien, Steven Skoien was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery in Wisconsin and sentenced to two years probation. As a probation condition, and because of the Brady disqualifier, he was prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Probation officers learned Skoien had a deer-hunting license, which made them believe he might have a gun. Officers found a shotgun in Skoien’s pickup truck, and a dead deer in his garage. He told probation officers he used the shotgun to shoot the deer.

After a grand jury indicted him for having the gun, he moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming it violated his Second Amendment rights.

In his argument, he did not make the case he wanted a gun for self-defense, but did claim the Second Amendment protected his rights to have a gun for hunting. He also cited District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), in which the Supreme Court of the United States found it was lawful for citizens to own a gun for self-defense.

The 7th Circuit panel that decided the case in November said that the U.S. government didn’t make its case clear enough that Skoien should not have a gun for hunting. The court vacated Skoien’s conviction and remanded. A request for rehearing en banc followed, which the court heard May 20.

Domestic violence victim advocates are watching the case with heightened interest. Advocates tell us that they have witnessed instances of Indiana judges granting a protective order in one breath, while in the next breath refusing to take away the respondent’s firearms.

One such advocate told us for our news story, published in the May 13-25, 2010, issue of Indiana Lawyer, that she’s heard of people being granted protective orders, which fall under the Brady disqualifiers, only to have the judge granting the order ask whether he needed to restrict the respondent from having a gun during hunting season.

Seriously? What kind of logic goes into framing such a question? How can a judge in all seriousness grant a protective order one minute and then ask whether there is a need to prevent the person whom the order is against from having access to a gun for any purpose? Guns and protective orders often create more risk for victims, as the potential for lethal consequences goes up after an order is issued and the perpetrator has access to a gun.

We believe Mr. Skoien has the right to a fair trial. Once convicted of a domestic violence charge, we don’t believe he has a right to keep and bear arms. We believe he lost that right when he was convicted.

Perhaps Mr. Skoien needs to find a new hobby. And perhaps some judges need to spend more time being concerned about the victim’s right to safety than the perpetrator’s right to deadly weapons.•
 

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