The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban
("Gun Ban for Individuals Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence", , ) was an amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 enacted by the 104th United States Congress
in 1996. The act is often referred to as "the Lautenberg Amendment" after its sponsor, Senator Frank Lautenberg
The act bans shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor
or felony domestic violence
, or who is under a restraining (protection) order for domestic abuse. The act also makes it unlawful to knowingly sell or give a firearm or ammunition to such person.
Firearms dealers are under ever increasing pressure to avoid straw purchases — a purchase made by a non-prohibited person on behalf of a prohibited person. This means that spouses, people who cohabit with a domestic violence offender, and indeed friends can come under very close scrutiny by dealers and law enforcement during the sales process.
This law has been tested in federal court with the case United States v. Emerson
(No. 99-10331) (5th Cir. 2001). The case involved a challenge to the Constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)(C)(ii), a federal statute which prohibited the transportation of firearms or ammunition in interstate commerce by persons subject to a court order that, by its explicit terms, prohibits the use of physical force against an intimate partner or child. Emerson
does not address the portion of the Lautenberg Amendment involving conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence. It was initially overturned in 1999 for being unconstitutional, but that case was reversed upon appeal in 2001.
The case Gillespie v. City of Indianapolis, Indiana, 185 F.3d 693 (7th 1999) also challenged this law, and the case was rejected.
The ex post facto aspects of the law were challenged with:
- United States v. Brady, 26 F.3d 282 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 246 (1994)(denying ex post facto challenge to a 922(g)(1) conviction) and
- United States v. Waters, 23 F.3d 29 (2d Cir. 1994) (ex post facto based challenge to a 922(g)(4) conviction).
Both of the challenges were denied.
For individuals who find their gun rights revoked by this act, having their misdemeanor record expunged is an option to restore legal access to firearms, although it may require a waiting period of several years after the time of the offense.
Some opponents believe that the law runs contrary to the right to keep and bear arms
protected by Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
, and that this law has modified the Second Amendment to be more of a revocable privilege than a fundamental protection. Other opponents believe that this is contrary to the Tenth Amendment
, making firearm and ammunition possession a federal felony due to a previous state misdemeanor charge.
Proponents of the law lament that the law has been poorly enforced. Also, although they believe that the law was intended to have been a lifetime ban, expungement has proven to be an escape mechanism available to and allegedly exploited by some offenders.
This law effectively mandated the discharge of service members who had been convicted of domestic violence or who have had a permanent restraining (protection) order entered against them, and mandates the discharge of all service members who are convicted of domestic violence in the future. This is not explicitly written in the law, but a side effect of servicemembers' access to firearms in the course of their duties.
Effects on law enforcement officers
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(BATF) sent a notice to every law enforcement agency when this law went into effect. Police officers with prior misdemeanor charges of domestic violence from years earlier were no longer permitted to possess firearms under the new federal law. Several officers were fired for such past misdemeanor offenses. Several of the gun magazines printed a copy of this new BATF order at the time.