In a 9-0 decision on March 26, the Supreme Court upheld current federal law banning anyone found guilty of domestic violence from possessing a gun. The decision furthermore served to strengthen existing law, by overturning previous district court rulings interpreting the law as applying only to those convicted of “violent use of force” and stating that the ban extended to anyone who had pled guilty to even a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.
The case, United States v. Castleman, pertained to James A. Castleman, a Tennessee resident who had been charged in 2009 with selling firearms on the black market. Castleman was charged with violating the federal firearms law because in 2001 he had pled guilty in Tennessee to misdemeanor domestic violence, meaning he had “intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury” to the mother of his child. The case against Castleman was brought by the Obama administration, which had been lobbied by advocates for battered women. An AP report noted that the Obama administration had argued that the lower court decisions would effectively nullify the federal gun ban in dozens of states where misdemeanor domestic violence laws don’t specify the degree of force needed for conviction. The administration argued that this would undermine the intent of Congress, which was to prohibit the possession of firearms by anyone found guilty of even misdemeanor domestic violence.
Castleman’s defense in the original case had argued that the federal gun prohibition did not apply to him because it defines a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as the “use or attempted use of physical force” and his conviction had merely been for “intentionally or knowing causing bodily injury.” Castleman argued that the sort of “physical force” described by the federal statute was of a more violent nature than that in the Tennessee statute to which he pled guilty, and therefore did not prohibit him from owning a gun.
The judge in the case ruled that the federal law requires “violent contact with the victim” and dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that violent physical force was necessary to prosecute under the federal law and upheld the dismissal.
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