United States Supreme Court Upholds Firearms Prohibition in Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Cases

Under the Lautenberg Amendment, which Congress passed in 1996, individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors can’t legally own or buy guns. In a recent US Supreme Court case, Voisine v. United States, two men who lost their right to own or buy guns after being convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors challenged the law, arguing that the gun ban should not apply to assaults that are committed “recklessly,” as opposing to knowingly or intentionally. However, the United States Supreme Court disagreed, and upheld the ban. Justice Elena Kagan, writing the majority opinion, stated, “a person who assaults another recklessly ‘use[s]’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”

The case represents an important victory in the fight against intimate partner violence. Gun ownership and intimate partner violence can be a lethal combination, and female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined.[1] The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%.[2] Laws prohibiting persons convicted of domestic violence are an important tool in curbing intimate partner homicides, and in states that require a background check for handgun sales, 38% fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners.[3]

In an effort to reduce homicides by intimate partners, several states have enacted gun bills related to intimate partner violence, including California. California prohibits the purchase and possession of firearms by individuals who have committed certain violent misdemeanors, such as assault, battery or stalking.[4] In addition, California authorizes courts to prohibit defendants from purchasing or possessing firearms where the offender is charged with (but not yet convicted of) domestic violence.[5] Further, under California law, individuals may seek a domestic violence protective order prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by a current or former intimate partner, spouse or family member. [6]

Law enforcement is granted the authority to take possession of firearms in conjunction with serving a domestic violence restraining order.[7] In San Mateo County, we are fortunate to have a dedicated Firearms Compliance Unit of the Sheriff’s Department to ensure compliance with state and federal firearms laws.

If you are a survivor of assault, abuse, stalking, or harassment, you should speak with your attorney about your options for obtaining and enforcing orders regarding firearms.

[1] J.C. Campbell, D.W. Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-1097 (2003).
[2] When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2010 Homicide Data: Females Murdered by Males in Single Victim/Single Offender Incidents. 2012. Violence Policy Center. Washington, DC. Retrieved January 17, 2013. http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2012.pdf.
[3] U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2010, available at http://bit.ly/V1GvFe (excludes New York due to incomplete data).
[4]Cal. Penal Code §29805
[5] Cal Penal Code §136.2(a)(1)(G)(I)-(II), (d)(1)-(3)
[6]Cal. Fam. Code §§6211, 6218, 6389
[7] Cal.Penal Code §18250