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
Beto Going All-In on Confiscation

News  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Beto Going All-In on Confiscation

Democrat Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke continues to struggle to gain any sort of traction for his campaign. With some polls putting him in 10th place, and his average sitting around 7th, some might say that it is desperation ...

Tell Your Lawmakers: No Semi-Auto and Magazine Ban!

News  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tell Your Lawmakers: No Semi-Auto and Magazine Ban!

The Democrat Party is now so aligned with gun control that every major candidate running for its 2020 presidential nomination recently appeared in a propaganda video produced by one of the nation’s most active firearm prohibition groups. ...

NASCAR Takes a Hard Left

News  

Friday, August 30, 2019

NASCAR Takes a Hard Left

After decades of NASCAR drivers literally turning left for hours every race day (road course races excluded, of course), the governing body appears to be taking a figurative left turn, politically. K-Var, a retailer in outdoor and ...

House Democrats Continue Unprecedented Push for More Gun Control

News  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

House Democrats Continue Unprecedented Push for More Gun Control

As was continually threatened while Congress was on its six-week Summer break, House Democrats hastily convened a hearing on Tuesday to promote their latest batch of anti-gun bills.  The House Judiciary Committee’s markup of three bills, ...

Playing Games with Numbers

News  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Playing Games with Numbers

Stanford Law Professor John Donohue and Theodora Boulouta, a Stanford undergrad, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that claims their new research shows the 1994 “assault weapons” ban really did work.  Their finding is ...

NRA Files Suit Against San Francisco for Violating First Amendment

News  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

NRA Files Suit Against San Francisco for Violating First Amendment

On September 3, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors smeared millions of law-abiding Americans by unanimously adopting a resolution that designated NRA a “domestic terrorist organization.” Less than one week later, on September 9, NRA filed a federal lawsuit ...

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Declares NRA a “Domestic Terrorist Organization”

News  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Declares NRA a “Domestic Terrorist Organization”

On September 3, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution, “declaring that the National Rifle Association is a domestic terrorist organization and urging other cities, states, and the federal government to do the same.”The resolution was ...

California: 2019 Legislative Session Adjourns

Sunday, September 15, 2019

California: 2019 Legislative Session Adjourns

The California Legislature has adjourned the 2019 session resulting in the final passage of AB 12, AB 61, AB 879, AB 893, AB 1254, AB 1297, AB 1669, SB 61 and SB 172 which are now eligible ...

News  

Friday, September 13, 2019

NRA Statement on Texas Governor's Safety Action Report

The National Rifle Association released the following statement on Friday regarding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's Texas Safety Action Report:   

“Pro-gun” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Turns on Second Amendment Supporters, Sides With Anti-Gun Lobby

News  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

“Pro-gun” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Turns on Second Amendment Supporters, Sides With Anti-Gun Lobby

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick uses his political website to claim he is “leading the fight for life and liberty in Texas, including … standing up for the Second Amendment.” He also proudly notes his prior NRA endorsement. But ...

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.