Court upholds firearms ban

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Kevin Murphy
July 15, 2010
— In a case involving a Janesville man, a federal appeals court this week upheld the constitutionality of a lifetime ban on firearm possession for people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of violence.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Tuesday that Steven Skoienís right to bear arms wasnít violated when he was convicted in federal court for unlawful firearm possession a year after being convicted in state court on his second misdemeanor domestic battery count.

Skoien, 31, was on probation for the 2007 misdemeanor conviction in Rock County Court when his probation agent learned Skoien had obtained a deer hunting license. A search of Skoienís truck recovered a 12-gauge shotgun.

Skoien was charged in federal court in 2008 for unlawful firearm possession after admitting the gun was his fatherís and that he had used it to shoot a deer. Skoien pleaded guilty to the charge on the condition he could argue it violated his Second Amendment rights. He began serving his two-year sentence last July.

Last fall, three members of the Seventh Circuit agreed the firearms law violated Skoienís rights, but the U.S. Attorney asked the entire court to hear the case and argued that there are exclusions to the Second Amendment that apply to people convicted of felony and misdemeanor violent crimes.

In a lengthy written decision, the court traced how the law has disqualified from gun ownership those found to be mentally ill or convicted of violent offenses. The decision justified keeping firearms out of the hands of violent crime offenders, saying those who committed violence toward a spouse, child or domestic partner are likely to use violence again.

Citing a 1992 study, the court pointed out that assaults involving firearms were 12 times more likely to result in the victimís death than when knives or fists were used.

Even evidence presented by Skoienís attorney showed that 52 percent of domestic abusers hadnít suspended their abusive conduct within three years of their conviction, the opinion noted.

ďNo matter how you slice these numbers, people convicted of domestic violence remain dangerous to their spouses and partners,Ē Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote.

Congress recognized that many people are charged with a misdemeanor when the victim is a child or a spouse but are charged with a felony when similar conduct is alleged against a stranger, according to the opinion.

In a lengthy dissent, Judge Diane Sykes took issue with many of the majorityís conclusions including that while felons can have their civil rights restored through a pardon or being expunged, those remedies are not available to misdemeanor offenders such as Skoien, making his firearms ban permanent.

The Gazette was not able to reach Skoienís attorney, Michael Lieberman, for a comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim OíShea wouldnít speculate if the case would be further appealed but said the prosecution of some firearms offenses had been stayed pending the outcome of Skoienís appeal.

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