17 Oct The Lautenberg Amendment and SCOTUS
Edit: This case has been decided and you can read our coverage of the most recent ruling here.
Soon the Supreme Court of the United States will visit the Lautenburg amendment and it’s constitutionality. The Supreme Court has received many challenges to this amendment and has, until now, turned them all down. The case that brought the attention to the nine justices was originally State v. Castleman in Tennessee. The defendant was convicted in 2001 of an Assault in the 4th Degree (misdemeanor domestic assault) by means of a plea deal. In 2009 the same defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm based on the previous conviction for domestic violence.
At face value, it seems to be wise to ban violent batterers from possessing firearms. Why would we want violent people that harm their loved ones to own a weapon capable of delivering much more damage than a fist or foot? Of course it is to protect the victims from death or great bodily injury. This law makes perfect sense and the intention was made in good faith to protect people in dangerous situations. The only issue with this is the definition of Domestic Violence, specifically the definition of Assault in the 4th degree (a gross misdemeanor). Here in Washington the burden for Domestic Violence Assault in the 4th Degree is much lower and is rooted in common-law definition of battery, which is “satisfied by even the slightest offensive touching” between people living under the same roof. This means that throwing a glass of water on a roommate during an argument, or placing an unwanted hand on a shoulder could potentially qualify as “battery” by this standard and therefore preventing you from owning or possessing a firearm for life.
This law excluding persons charged with simple domestic “assault” from owning firearms dates back to 1996. The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban was an amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997. This is more commonly referred to as the “Lautenberg Amendment” as it was sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The interesting caveat to this amendment is it’s retroactive application. While not officially ex-post facto as ex-post facto laws are unconstitutional, it does specifically state that any person that has ever been convicted of a domestic violence crime can never own a firearm by federal standards, this applies to persons convicted of the crime in question prior to 1996. Soon the Supreme court will make a determination on this issue and it will be settled for some time before being challenged again, so is the law.