Constitutional Law

Federal gun ban applies even if domestic violence victim isn't injured, state appeals court says


A federal gun-possession ban for those with state-law misdemeanor domestic violence convictions will be applied broadly in California, a state appeals court has ruled.

Petitioner Scott R. James, who had applied to be a reserve deputy sheriff and wanted to buy a gun, sought a writ of mandate arguing that his battery conviction should not be considered “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” for the purpose of applying the federal statute.

However, the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled on Tuesday that the amount of actual or threatened force which is, by definition, required to prove battery under state law puts those convicted of the crime within the federal statute’s ambit, even though the victim in any particular case might suffer no physical injury.

Interpreting the law in this manner “furthers Congress’ intent to keep guns out of the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence,” wrote Justice Jennifer Detjen in a unanimous decision (PDF) by the three-judge panel. “A zero-tolerance policy is not promoted by requiring agencies (and ultimately courts) to differentiate between, for example, a slap and a punch, or a poke to the chest and a poke in the eye.”

At issue in the case is the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968, which originally applied to felonies. Lawmakers amended it in 1996 to cover domestic violence misdemeanors as well, since many individuals charged with domestic violence crimes are not convicted of felonies.

Under the statute, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 92 1(a)(33)(A), “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is defined as “an offense that (1) is a misdemeanor under state law, (2) “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon,” and (3) is committed by the victim’s current or former spouse.”

Calguns Foundation was not a party in the case but wants to see a state supreme court ruling on the gun rights issue, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Spokesman Craig DeLuz,called the definition of domestic violence applied by the appeals court “entirely too broad.”

The appeals court takes note in its opinion of U.S. Supreme Court discussion of the nation’s domestic violence problem, which involves more than a million incidents and hundreds of deaths annually. Individual incidents may not be severe, but can have a cumulative effect in what may become an escalating pattern of behavior.

The presence of a firearm increases the chance of a related homicide, the nation’s top court said, and it was against this background that lawmakers enacted the amendment extending the federal gun ban to those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Physical force gets expansive meaning in SCOTUS interpretation of domestic-violence gun ban”

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