SCOTUS Backs Lautenberg

Supreme Court Accepts Broad Definition

    The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) today ruled that prohibiting firearms from those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence is OK even if the actual charge made no mention of a domestic relationship.

    In 1994 Randy Hayes was convicted of simple battery after an altercation with his wife.  The battery charge did not mention the domestic relationship.  In 2005 Hayes was prosecuted, and convicted, for being a "prohibited person" in possession of a firearm – police found a lever-action rifle under his bed.  Hayes fought that conviction based on the specific language of the notorious Lautenberg Amendment which added domestic violence misdemeanants to the list of "prohibited persons."  The argument was one of commas, syntax, and intent questioning whether the charge that a person was convicted of had to include something about a domestic relationship such as "Battery against a Spouse" or "Domestic Battery" as opposed to "Simple Battery" which does not address who the victim was.

    Hayes was initially found guilty of being a "prohibited person" in possession of a firearm, but that conviction was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit which ruled that the actual language of the Lautenberg Amendment should be understood to require that the "domestic" component be included in the criminal charge.  In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the 4th Circuit and said that regardless of the actual charge, as long as the crime involved violence or threat of violence and the victim was domestically related to the perpetrator, the firearms prohibition applies.

    Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented saying that such an interpretation would require authorities to research the details of any conviction for assault, battery, or threatening to determine if there was a domestic relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. 

    Even though there was some buzz about this case within the Second Amendment community and some hope that the Heller decision would cause the Justices to take a more conservative position on any law which arbitrarily abrogated Second Amendment rights, there was no mention of the Second Amendment during oral arguments and none in either the majority or minority opinions.

    Today’s Supreme Court decision means that anyone who has ever been convicted of any misdemeanor crime of violence – to include threats of violence – even if there was no possible way for the threat to be carried out and even if the punishment for the crime was only a $25 fine – is barred from ever possessing firearms or ammunition for the rest of their life if the victim of their crime was a person within the perpetrators household.  This leaves a large number of people at risk of committing unintentional felonies like Hayes did and it means that anyone with any record of battery or assault is likely to face drawn out delays whenever purchasing a firearm as NICS will have to determine the details of the case before approving the sale.

    And of course – as with all gun control legislation – the objective and result of this law is not to keep guns away from dangerous criminals, but rather to make criminals of regular citizens and make gun ownership more cumbersome and problematic.  The passage of the Lautenburg Amendment cost thousands of police and military personnel their careers and often their pensions because they could no longer be in positions that required them to possess firearms, and it has ruined the lives of countless others who, like Randy Hayes, had no idea that they were not supposed to possess firearms and were caught up and prosecuted for being a "prohibited person" on possession of a gun.