Over the past two decades, Congress has enacted various laws aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence. One such law is 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), also known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which prohibits any person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. However, because the Second Amendment has been deemed a fundamental right by the Supreme Court, such a restriction on firearms possession is only permissible if it serves a compelling government interest. Unfortunately, since the Lautenberg Amendment was enacted in 1996, the courts have struggled to interpret its ambiguous terms, which has made it difficult to determine whether the governmental interest involved is compelling in all situations. In 2014, the Supreme Court extended the reach of the Lautenberg Amendment to misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence committed knowingly or intentionally. This decision furthered the aim of the Lautenberg Amendment by keeping guns out of the hands of violent domestic abusers, and thus satisfied the compelling purpose standard.
However, in 2016, the Supreme Court further extended the reach of the Lautenberg Amendment in Voisine v. United States, holding that the law also extends to those convicted of reckless misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. Under this decision, a person convicted of even a minor reckless infraction against a domestic relation will be prevented from owning or possessing a firearm. As this standard now applies to actions that are not inherently violent, this decision fails to further the policy of the Lautenberg Amendment and instead thrusts it into unconstitutional territory. Individuals can now be stripped of a fundamental constitutional right based on a conviction of a minor offense that is often only punishable by a fine. Therefore, the language of the Lautenberg Amendment needs to be clarified by Congress to better protect victims of domestic violence, and to ensure that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is not lost in the process.
Menta, Cynthia M.
"The Misapplication of the Lautenberg Amendment in Voisine v. United States and the Resulting Loss of Second Amendment Protection,"
Akron Law Review: Vol. 51
, Article 5.
Available at: http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/akronlawreview/vol51/iss1/5