Can I own a gun after a domestic violence conviction?

Domestic assault is a very serious offense and can include committing an action with the intent of causing fear or harm, including actual bodily harm, injury or death, against a family member (i.e., spouse, child, aunt, uncle, parent) or close family acquaintance (i.e. roommate).

Common types of domestic assault actions can include:

  • Punching, slapping, kicking, or biting a partner
  • Forcing your partner to perform sexual activities against their will
  • Threatening violence or intimidating your partner
  • Stabbing, choking, or shooting a partner
  • Forcing your partner to use drugs

If you have been charged with domestic assault the seriousness of the charge will depend on the type of abuse inflicted. For very serious injuries or offenses you can be charged with a felony; other less serious offenses are charged as a misdemeanor.

Can I own a gun after a domestic assault conviction?

The Federal Gun Control Act (GCA) was established in 1968 and precludes certain groups of individuals from owning and possessing a firearm. Those disqualified under the law include “anyone convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding a year, fugitives, drug addicts, mental incompetents, illegal aliens, those dishonorably discharged from the armed services, and those who have renounced their United States citizenship.”

Now, you specifically asked about domestic abusers. Although domestic abusers who were charged with a misdemeanor were not originally banned from owning a gun, the Lautenberg Law, more commonly known as the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, was passed and signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, making it illegal for domestic abuse offenders to own, ship, receive, or possess firearms or ammunition affecting interstate commerce.

Why did they pass the Lautenberg Law?

Experts contend the Lautenberg Law was passed in reaction to the failure of legislatures, who for many years did not respond to the seriousness of domestic violence. In the 1980s, however, laws and public opinion shifted, with lawmakers passing more laws which increasingly focused on protecting the rights of the victims and allowing less tolerance for abusers. One such law was the Lautenberg Law, which legislatures believed would remove guns from the hands of domestic abusers, increasing victim's safety and lowering the threat of gun violence.

Constitutional Challenges to the Lautenberg Law

Although it is illegal for domestic abusers who have been convicted of misdemeanor and felony charges to own a gun, recent challenges to the Lautenberg Law have received considerable attention. In fact, challenges have been made on several grounds: a violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8.

Bottom line:

Although this amendment still stands, opponents of the law argue that it is much too broad, applying not only to felony domestic violence offenders, but also misdemeanor domestic violence offenders. Opponents also argue the law should allow exceptions for government law enforcement and military personnel charged with misdemeanors.While the Lautenberg Law remains controversial, however, constitutional challenges to its legality so far have not succeeded. This is not to say that at some point in the future the amendment will not be deemed unconstitutional, but as of now, if you have been convicted of domestic assault you will not legally be able to own a gun.

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