By Jeff Knox
Buckeye, AZ --(Ammoland.com)- The Supreme Court of the US came down with a decision in March that effectively expands the base of people prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms in this country.
In a unanimous decision in the case US v. Castleman, the Court ruled that the law banning possession of firearms by anyone ever convicted of any crime of violence against a spouse or significant other – often referred to as the Lautenberg law – applies not only to crimes labeled as “Domestic Violence” or to such crimes that involve what an average person would consider actual violence, but also to things like pushing, shoving, or grabbing, even when no harm was intended and no injury sustained.
Many states have intentionally drawn a distinction between minor contact among family members during an argument, and violence intended to harm, intimidate, or control. Those states’ common sense approach to the matter has now been overruled by the Court, and convictions for charges like simple assault in cases like a woman slapping a cheating spouse, or a man pushing his way out the door to get away from an argument, will now include the mandatory loss of firearm rights for life – even if the incident occurred decades ago.
What the Court did not rule on, is whether it is a violation of the Second Amendment to have a lifetime loss of firearm rights based on a misdemeanor crime.
The Court noted that this case did not adequately address that point and that this decision does not attempt to answer that question. They said the Second Amendment question will have to be decided in some future case.
Domestic violence is a terrible thing and a complex issue. Extreme emotions can feed uncharacteristic behaviors – including violence from either direction, and also false accusations of violence or other crimes. It wasn’t many years ago that a domestic violence misdemeanor was treated little different than a traffic violation. The accused, usually men, were often counseled by their attorney’s to simply plead guilty, pay the minor fine, and move on – regardless of their guilt or innocence. Years, or even decades later, that counsel has been proven to have been flawed because Lautenberg retroactively applies to anyone ever convicted of any “crime of violence or threat of violence with a weapon” against someone within a domestic relationship, regardless of any extenuating factors or mitigating circumstances. The anti-rights crowd passed and has protected this overreaching law with accusations that opponents of the law want “guns for wife-beaters.” Of course the reality is that we want punishment to fit the crime and justice to rule.
Our legal system distinguishes between a misdemeanor and a felony based on the severity of the crime. By definition, misdemeanors are minor criminal acts which cause little harm. On the other hand, felonies are serious crimes that cause significant harm. Punishment for misdemeanors and felonies reflect this distinction. If a crime deserves felony-level consequences, then the crime should be classified as a felony. If specific acts that can be labeled as “domestic violence” do not rise to the level of felony crimes, then the consequences should not be felony consequences.
Rather than address the problem of serious domestic violence being labeled a misdemeanor in many jurisdictions, the Lautenberg law simply throws an extra consequence onto the misdemeanor – the loss of the right to arms for life. Serious domestic violence should be a felony. Minor incidents of bumping or pushing have always rightly been considered misdemeanors. There is no rational justification for those involved in such incidents being debarred of their rights. It is ridiculous that police officers, soldiers, and avid hunters should lose their livelihoods and pastimes based on minor incidents – especially after decades have passed and they have proven themselves to be responsible citizens. It is equally ridiculous that such individuals should later be arrested and sentenced to extended periods in prison for innocently possessing a hunting rifle or shotgun for recreation – again, often decades after the incident.
We have tried to get Lautenberg repealed, but the charge of “guns for wife-beaters” resonates in the media, scaring politicians and leading gun groups away from even approaching that fight. The next hope lies in one of these outrageously unjust cases eventually making its way to the Supreme Court and having the law declared unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a “sympathetic” plaintiff in any domestic violence case, and there has been a boatload of bad precedents set by bad cases brought before Second Amendment rights were more firmly established in the Heller and McDonald decisions. There have been a few more recent cases that could have shifted the Court’s position, but were not presented or argued correctly – again resulting in bad precedents.
Labeling good people as criminals and taking away their constitutionally guaranteed rights based on minor lapses in the heat of passion serves no public safety purpose. Loss of constitutionally guaranteed rights should be recognized as a very serious matter and should only happen when a clear public interest is served.
One way or another, Lautenberg has got to go.
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The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org