Nearly two decades ago, Congress passed a rather significant amendment to the Gun Control Act known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which expressly forbids anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from either purchasing or owning a firearm.
The amendment, which was passed out of recognition that otherwise violent offenses committed against partners are frequently pleaded down to misdemeanors, dictates that individuals caught breaking this law can face up to ten years in federal prison.
Interestingly enough, the Lautenberg Amendment was at the epicenter of Voisine v. United States, a fascinating decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States just last week.
The case was brought by two men, both of whom had been convicted of domestic violence offenses under Maine statutes forbidding “reckless conduct,” and were eventually charged with violating the Lautenberg Amendment after law enforcement officials found firearms in their possession while investigating other alleged criminal activity several years later.
The two men argued that they were not covered by the Lautenberg Amendment — codified at U.S. Code section 922(g)(9) — given that their underlying domestic violence convictions could conceivably be based on reckless conduct, as opposed to knowing or intentional conduct. In other words, they argued that the Lautenberg Amendment only covered the latter types of crimes.
This argument was rejected by the District Court, a decision later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
The petitioners were eventually granted cert by the Supreme Court of the United States, which was presented with the issue of whether misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence based purely on reckless conduct — versus knowing or intentional — are covered under the Lautenberg Amendment’s firearms ban.
In a 6-2 decision, the court held that those who fell into this category were indeed covered by the firearms ban, with Justice Elena Kagan writing, “a person who assaults another recklessly uses force no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”
Indeed, the court went on to declare that to hold otherwise would defeat the intent of Congress, potentially result in over 30 states having their own similar laws overturned and enable “domestic abusers of all mental states to evade” a ban on firearms.
As evidenced by this decision, those convicted of domestic violence who are later found to be in possession of firearms face potentially serious consequences at the state and/or federal level. Consequently, they must give serious consideration to speaking with an experienced legal professional committed to protecting their freedom and their future.