NRA Explore
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
California: Governor Brown Takes Action on Final Firearm-Related Bills

Monday, September 26, 2016

California: Governor Brown Takes Action on Final Firearm-Related Bills

Today, Governor Brown made his decision on the final firearm-related bills of the 2016 legislative session that made it to his desk.   Governor Brown vetoed two anti-gun bills, AB 450 and SB 1332, and signed ...

Not The Victim Hillary Needs

News  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Not The Victim Hillary Needs

This feature appears in the October ‘16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association. “Why can’t everyone just have their DNA on file? Then it would ...

California: Referendum Update

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

California: Referendum Update

On behalf of the National Rifle Association (NRA), we would like to thank all of the volunteers and individuals who participated in the Veto Gunmageddon ballot referendum qualification effort.  Despite the tremendous efforts of all involved, ...

War on Terror or a War on Guns?

News  

Friday, September 23, 2016

War on Terror or a War on Guns?

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was in New York City recently on an official visit. Commenting on the bombs that exploded while he was in town, he opined that such attacks are now simply ...

Show Your Support—NEW NRA Yard Signs Available!

News  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Show Your Support—NEW NRA Yard Signs Available!

Show your support for NRA and the Second Amendment this election cycle by purchasing an NRA yard sign.  With everything that is at stake this year, including the Presidency, the balance of the U.S. Senate ...

Virginia Politician and Clinton Backer Brands Trump Supporters as “Mentally Deficient”

News  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Virginia Politician and Clinton Backer Brands Trump Supporters as “Mentally Deficient”

With the presidential race tighter than ever as it heads into its final stretch, panicked Hillary Clinton supporters are desperate to find a way to discredit, not just Donald Trump, but anyone who would dare ...

Montana: Bloomberg Targeting Missoula – Your Action Needed NOW!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Montana: Bloomberg Targeting Missoula – Your Action Needed NOW!

On Monday, September 26, the Missoula City Council is scheduled to consider an ordinance that would only create a burden for law-abiding citizens and may turn them into criminals if they unknowingly violate the ordinance.

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.

News  

Friday, July 1, 2016

California Governor Signs Draconian Gun Control Package into Law

Fairfax, Va.— California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a package of gun bills that were rushed through the state legislature with no regard for proper process. The National Rifle Association Institute for ...

Pennsylvania: Semi-Automatic Rifle Hunting Legislation will go to the House Floor Next Week!

Hunting  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pennsylvania: Semi-Automatic Rifle Hunting Legislation will go to the House Floor Next Week!

Next week, and important pro-hunting reform bill, Senate Bill 737, may be considered in the House of Representatives.  Please call your state Representative and urge them to vote in favor of Senate Bill 737!

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -
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.