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
Anti-gunners Launch Campaign to Intimidate U.S. Supreme Court as Second Amendment Case Looms

News  

Monday, October 11, 2021

Anti-gunners Launch Campaign to Intimidate U.S. Supreme Court as Second Amendment Case Looms

For many decades, gun control proponents who saw their fortunes wane in legislatures from coast to coast and who were unable to get traction with Congress could at least console themselves with the thought that ...

Biden Administration Bans Importation of Russian Ammunition

News  

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Biden Administration Bans Importation of Russian Ammunition

The Biden Administration’s Department of State announced that it will soon prohibit the importation of Russian ammunition into the United States. According to a release on the Department of State’s website, “[n]ew and pending permit applications ...

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.

California: Governor Newsom Signs Legislation Adding More Restrictions to Gun Shows

Monday, October 11, 2021

California: Governor Newsom Signs Legislation Adding More Restrictions to Gun Shows

Despite lawful gun ownership and gun shows already being highly regulated by California law, Governor Gavin Newsom once again signed legislation targeting law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing to address violent crime. On October 8th, he ...

DOJ Releases Biden Gun Confiscation Order Legislation

News  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

DOJ Releases Biden Gun Confiscation Order Legislation

DOJ has made clear that Garland’s selective definition of “civil rights” has no room for the Second Amendment...

“Adapting” to Crime with “Bleeding Control” Kits

News  

Monday, October 11, 2021

“Adapting” to Crime with “Bleeding Control” Kits

While being driven around recently in the gun-control utopia of Chicago, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) claimed the driver of a car next to his leaned out the window and shot a gun into the air. “He could ...

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,

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.

Biden Administration Asks the U.S. Supreme Court to Judicially Nullify the Right to Bear Arms

News  

Monday, September 27, 2021

Biden Administration Asks the U.S. Supreme Court to Judicially Nullify the Right to Bear Arms

On September 21, the Biden Administration filed an amicus brief in the pending U.S. Supreme Court case of New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, supporting New York’s draconian and unconstitutional restrictions on the right to bear ...

House-Passed NDAA includes Anti-Gun Provisions

News  

Sunday, September 26, 2021

House-Passed NDAA includes Anti-Gun Provisions

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense bill that directs funding for our nation’s military.

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.