Supreme Court to Consider Gun Bans for Domestic Violence Convictions

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to re-enter the gun debate and consider the scope of a federal law that prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.

In 2001, James Castleman was charged in Tennessee state court with misdemeanor domestic assault. Castleman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to supervised probation for 11 months and 29 days. In 2008, law enforcement agents discovered that Castleman and his wife were buying firearms from gun dealers and selling them on the black market. In 2009, Castleman was charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and three counts of making false or fictitious statements to a federally licensed firearm dealer in order to purchase firearms in violation of a federal law that prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm.

Castleman moved to dismiss the indictment against him, arguing that his Tennessee domestic assault offense is not a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” and, therefore, not covered under the federal domestic violence ban, because it does not have an element of the use of physical force as the cause of injury. A lower court and court of appeals agreed and threw out Castleman’s indictment, reasoning that the Tennessee domestic assault statute under which Castleman pleaded guilty allows for an injury to happen from something other than the use of physical force (like ingesting poisoned liquid, for example). Because Castleman’s conviction didn’t establish violent, physical force against the victim, his conviction can’t serve as a qualifying misdemeanor under the federal domestic violence ban, the court concluded.

So the question before the Roberts Court is whether or not a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence like Castleman’s can qualify under the federal domestic violence gun ban. According to Castleman and some appellate courts, before a domestic assault conviction can count under the federal law, it must be based on the use of actual, physical violence. Threats, coercion, and anything absent violent force does not count.

The Obama administration argues that if the Roberts Court adopts Castleman’s reasoning it would leave the federal domestic violence gun prohibition toothless. That’s because, according to the petition to the Supreme Court, domestic violence convictions entered in nearly two-thirds of the states at the time the federal prohibition was passed would be exempt, since those state laws have no requirement of actual physical force to support a domestic assault conviction. Furthermore, the administration argues, any assault that knowingly results in bodily injury necessarily has, to some degree, the use of “physical force.”

The case was one of eight the Supreme Court agreed to hear after reviewing more than 200 petitions for its September 30 conference. Oral arguments in the case have not yet been set but are expected sometime in January.

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  • suzieg

    Who is paying for Castleman’s defense and who is representing him?


      Invariably it’ll turn out to be the gun lobby.

  • expect_resistance

    How is this not a no-brainer to ban guns from perpetrators convicted of domestic violence?

  • Dean Weingarten

    Before the Lautenberg amendment, no one was deprived of fundamental constitutional rights for a mere misdemeanor. At least this case is not ex post facto as many of the lautenberg prosecutions were and are.

    • Kevin Schmidt

      According to the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment has limitations, just like every amendment.
      But you want everyone but gun owners to be deprived of their fundamental constitutional rights to not get shot by an NRA gun nut.


        the NRA is many things. Intelligent is NOT 1 of them!

      • Rational Thinking

        There’s a significant difference between the right to bare arms and shooting someone. If we follow suit with your philosophy then maybe the Supreme Court will say the limitation to the First Amendment is that free speech is only for people making smart comments.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          There are indeed limitations on the First Amendment, which the Supreme Court has ruled on over the years. Of course, your straw man is not one of them.

          The Second Amendment allows the federal government, states, counties and local communities to limit gun ownership and use to those people who are not minors, incompetent, insane or criminally violent.

          There is plenty of precedent going back over 100 years to back up my claim.

  • SparksinKY

    “Threats, coercion, and anything absent violent force does not count”
    Women in abusive homes are more likely to be murdered if there is a gun in that home. Threats and coercion are completely part of domestic violence. Take the gun away from the guy threatening to hurt someone, not after he has already done it.

  • Kevin Schmidt

    I agree. It is unconstitutional because it should ban access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of any violence, and not just domestic violence.