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Gun rights for domestic violence offenders before appeals court

A man who was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense in 1997 has sued the United States Attorney General to get his right to carry a firearm restored. At issue is a federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), which permanently bans the ownership of firearms or ammunition by anyone "who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."

The man lost his case in federal trial court and has now appealed it to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. His main claim is that his domestic violence conviction, a misdemeanor, "cannot categorically be labeled a 'serious' offense" that would justify stripping him of his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Across the nation, most domestic violence convictions are misdemeanors. As the government's appellate attorney pointed out, it views many domestic violence incidents to be just as serious as felonies even though they are rarely charged that way. There are reasons for this, including the structure of state laws and the difficulty of getting victims to agree to press felony charges and testify in such cases.

According to the Courthouse News Service, the trial court ruled that the applying the law to domestic violence convictions of any level serves a compelling government interest: the recidivism rate among domestic violence offenders is high, and their offenses often escalate in violence.

Moreover, the judge ruled that "the prohibition at issue falls squarely within the authority to disarm serious lawbreakers in existence well before the enactment of the Second Amendment."

The plaintiff, however, points out that he has been divorced and remarried in the nearly 20 years since his conviction and he has not been convicted a second time. Moreover, he contends that people who have committed more serious crimes are often treated more favorably in terms of their gun rights.

The federal statute that criminalizes the possession of firearms by convicted felons has a strange loophole. 18 U.S. Code § 922 prohibits the possession of guns or ammunition by those convicted of "a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year."

According to the plaintiff, some felony statutes allow defendants to be sentenced to exactly one year in prison, leaving them free to possess firearms once they are released.

"There is an absurdity in the law where if [the plaintiff] had committed a more serious crime, he would not have lost this right," his lawyer told the appellate court.

The Sixth Circuit did not set a release date for its opinion.

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