The Omnibus Appropriations Bill of 1997 (actually passed in 1996, back when Congress was in the business of passing budgets) contained the much-despised Lautenberg Amendment. This rider made it a felony for a person to possess firearms if they had ever been convicted of even a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence involving physical force. James Alvin Castleman of Tennessee was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend under Tennessee law and SCOTUS has recently granted certiorari in his appeal. The Nine have agreed to review the Lautenberg Amendment as it applies to certain domestic violence misdemeanors. It’s about f–ing time; let’s just pray they get it right . . .
The Lautenberg Amendment has been roundly criticized as violating the 2nd Amendment and for being an ex post facto law. Hundreds of thousands of people have been convicted of DV misdemeanors, and those convicted before 1996 were never warned that their guilty plea for pouring a beer over their girlfriend’s (or brother’s, uncle’s or college roommate’s) head would deprive them of their Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The United States Supreme Court has heard many challenges to the Lautenberg Amendment, and has thus far turned them all down. This time the court will decide whether misdemeanor-level DV assaults automatically qualify for the federal gun ban.
At issue is the Lautenberg Amendment’s language which triggers the ban only for misdemeanor DV convictions involving “the use or attempted use of physical force.” Many state laws, including my own here in Washington State, do not actually require the use of physical force in order to be convicted of an assault.
Tennessee law only requires ‘bodily injury’ which could be as minimal as a bruise, paper cut, or stubbed toe. My state has one of the broadest misdemeanor assault statutes anywhere: it doesn’t require injury or physical force, merely a “harmful or offensive unwanted physical contact.” Spitting in someone’s direction, pouring a drink on them, or even knocking a sandwich out of their hand can be the basis for a DV assault conviction in this state.
If the Supremes do the right thing and narrow the application of the federal gun ban, it won’t mean an automatic restoration of gun rights for those convicted of only the most minor DV ‘assaults’ and other crimes. It will require years of litigation at the state level, and most likely court action by each disenfranchised person, before they’ll be able to get their heaters back.
And it won’t necessarily impact state-level DV gun bans either, unless the Supremes base their decision on the 2nd Amendment. But it will be the right start.
I hate to drive traffic to Mayor Mikey Bloomberg’s News, but here it is.