Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

APPEARS IN Legal & Legislation

U.S. Supreme Court Gives Broad Reading to Federal Firearm Prohibition for "Domestic Violence"

Friday, March 28, 2014

Since 1996, the so-called "Lautenberg Amendment" (named for its sponsor, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)), has banned the acquisition or possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."  Applicable crimes are limited to those that have "as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon" and that are committed by persons with a specified relationship to the victim, such as a current or former spouse or a parent.   The prohibition applies no matter when the offense occurred and can include convictions that predated the 1996 law.

Over the years, federal appellate courts have differed on what degree of "physical force" is necessary to trigger the disability.  Questions have also arisen over whether a conviction could count if it occurred under a statute that covered both acts requiring force and those that did not (such as simply scaring the victim).  Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last Wednesday in United States v. Castleman, one of these questions has now been resolved in a way that gives the federal prohibition its broadest possible reading.

James Alvin Castleman was convicted in Tennessee of "having intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury" to his child's mother.  The statute in question could be violated in three separate ways: (1) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another; (2) intentionally or knowingly causing another reasonably to fear imminent bodily injury; or (3) intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another in a manner that a reasonable person would regard as extremely offensive or provocative (whether or not injury resulted).   The "injury" requirement of the first offense type was broadly defined to include a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, disfigurement, physical pain, or temporary impairment of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.  Thus, the statute could be violated with no physical force whatsoever or very minor, non-injurious physical force.

Castleman claimed that his conviction did not trigger the federal disability, because Congress only meant to prohibit those convicted of domestic violence.  Thus, he claimed, the only statutes that could count were those that could only be violated by committing violent (or more than nominal) physical force.  A statute that could be violated by mere offensive touching (pushing, shoving, poking, grabbing, etc.) should not count.

The Court disagreed and found that as long as the statute required some degree of offensive physical contact for a violation to occur, a conviction under that statute would trigger the federal disability.  It did not, however, reach the question of whether broad statutes like Tennessee's, which could be violated with or without force, would always be counted.  This was because Castleman had admitted he was convicted under the most demanding test of the statute, that requiring actual physical injury.  The Court reasoned that any injury, no matter how slight, must require the use of at least some "physical force."

The Court provided a number of rationales for its holding.  It reasoned, for example, that that "domestic violence" is not violence in the commonly understood sense but in the broader sense of an accumulation of acts over time that established one person's control over another.  Thus, it could include not just injurious abuse but more minor physical acts including hitting, slapping, shoving, pushing, grabbing, pinching, scratching, shaking, twisting, spitting, or restraining.  The Court acknowledged that "most physical assaults committed against women and men by intimates are minor …."  Nevertheless, it also opined, "If a seemingly minor act like this draws the attention of authorities and leads to a successful pros­ecution for a misdemeanor offense, it does not offend common sense or the English language to characterize the resulting conviction as a 'misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.'" 

Importantly, the Court did not resolve the important question of whether so broad an application of the statute (and the resulting lifetime loss of the right to acquire and possess firearms) would violate the Second Amendment.  Essentially, it ruled that question was not properly before it and would have to be resolved in another case.

Besides applying to a broader range of convictions in the future, this ruling also means that prior convictions will become subject to the new rule in those jurisdictions that had embraced a narrower reading of the federal statute.  Federally licensed dealers are thus being notified that some customers who had formerly passed NICS checks may now be subject to denials.

The Court's interpretation of the statute is final and authoritative.  It can now only be changed by Congress.  Whether that will happen or whether a Second Amendment challenge will be brought to a broad application of the statute are questions only time will tell.

TRENDING NOW
Biden Reiterates Call to Ban 9mm Handguns

News  

Monday, July 26, 2021

Biden Reiterates Call to Ban 9mm Handguns

During a July 21 CNN “presidential town hall,” Joe Biden expressed his support for a ban on commonly-owned handguns. Responding to a question about the recent increase in violent crime, the career politician stated,

Great Expectations, Empty Promises: Gun Control in Washington State

News  

Monday, July 26, 2021

Great Expectations, Empty Promises: Gun Control in Washington State

For years, voters in the Evergreen State have been assured that if only they approve certain gun control ballot initiatives, they would “save lives” and reduce crime. The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR), the organization pushing ...

How Anti-Gun Research Works

News  

Monday, July 26, 2021

How Anti-Gun Research Works

The objective world mistrusts most gun policy research because it’s clear the objective is to produce an anti-gun outcome rather than honest analysis. Politicians and professional activists claim the mantle of evidence but will ignore ...

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

Gun Laws  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

Students “School” Antigun Education Officials on Civil Rights, Receive Large Settlements in Court Cases

News  

Monday, July 19, 2021

Students “School” Antigun Education Officials on Civil Rights, Receive Large Settlements in Court Cases

Last September we reported on the saga of Ka'Mauri Harrison, a Louisiana elementary school student who was suspended for having a BB gun that happened to come into view while the fourth grader was participating in online ...

Louisiana: Betrayal at the Capitol

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Louisiana: Betrayal at the Capitol

Yesterday, SB 118, Constitutional Carry, was defeated due to several Senators reversing their initial vote of support on the bill.  Two of the Senators who flip-flopped were Senators Patrick Connick (SD-8) and Louie Bernard (SD-31). 

St. Louis Prosecutor Kim Gardner Ignores Violent Crime While Playing Politics with Gun Owners

News  

Monday, July 26, 2021

St. Louis Prosecutor Kim Gardner Ignores Violent Crime While Playing Politics with Gun Owners

Similar to many other urban areas of the country, St. Louis saw a dramatic increase in homicide in 2020. The Gateway to the West’s homicide rate per 100 thousand residents exploded from 64.5 in 2019 to 87.2 in 2020. The homicide ...

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

Gun Laws  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

NRA-ILA Applauds Rep. Claudia Tenney and U.S. House of Representatives’ Amicus Brief Supporting Second Amendment Case Before Supreme Court

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

NRA-ILA Applauds Rep. Claudia Tenney and U.S. House of Representatives’ Amicus Brief Supporting Second Amendment Case Before Supreme Court

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided to hear the NRA-ILA backed case challenging New York’s restrictive concealed-carry-licensing regime. NRA-ILA’s opening brief is located here.

Forty-Three Amicus Briefs Filed In Support OF NRA-ILA Backed Second Amendment Case Before Supreme Court

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Forty-Three Amicus Briefs Filed In Support OF NRA-ILA Backed Second Amendment Case Before Supreme Court

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided to hear the NRA-ILA backed case challenging New York’s restrictive concealed-carry-licensing regime. And just last week, NRA-ILA filed the opening brief in this crucial case, which is located here.

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.