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The Fragility of Second Amendment Rights in the face of Domestic Violence Convictions

The Fragility of Second Amendment Rights in the face of Domestic Violence Convictions

In 1996, then President Clinton signed into law 18 U.S.C § 922. In relevant part, subsection (g)(9) makes it unlawful for an individual convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to possess any firearm or ammunition. Further, under current Supreme Court holding, the phrase “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” includes acts of force undertaken intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. Voisine v. United States, 579 U.S. 686 (2016). Functionally, a domestic assault conviction of any kind makes it unlawful to possess firearms pursuant to federal law. Moreover, since domestic assault convictions can never be expunged from your record under Tennessee law, a misdemeanor domestic assault conviction can be a loss of your Second Amendment right for life.

The Contours of Domestic Assault in Tennessee

Under Tennessee law a person commits domestic assault who commits an assault against a domestic abuse victim. TCA § 39-13-111. An assault is described as someone who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; causes another to fear imminent bodily injury; or causes extremely offensive physical contact with another. Domestic abuse victims are described as those who, for example, are current or former spouses, those who have cohabitated, or those in a dating relationship. Tennessee is a strict state when it comes to domestic violence—under state law, should law enforcement find probable cause of domestic violence, the primary aggressor must spend a minimum of 12 hours in jail. The consequences of a domestic assault charge are serious and are felt at both the state and federal level.

Potential Changes to Federal Law

When the Supreme Court considered the federal law banning domestic violence misdemeanants from possessing firearms, the justices were split in their opinion. While the majority opinion upheld the constitutionality of the law, the dissent questioned the reasoning behind the Government’s position: “Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?” Significantly, the 2016 holding in Voisine v. United States was decided at a time when the Supreme Court had a different composition of justices. Legal scholars nowadays question whether Voisine will endure as authoritative law due to the recent addition of new justices to the Supreme Court. For example, N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen saw the court’s first significant decision on firearm rights in over a decade. In the ruling, the court explained the right “to keep and bear arms” protects a broad right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. Moreover, “the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” This shift in the court could signal a potential second look at federal law pertaining to domestic assault misdemeanants. Nonetheless, these types of constitutional issues take a long time to develop, and the issue may not come before the Supreme Court for years to come.

Facing a Domestic Assault Charge in Tennessee

Domestic assault charges in Tennessee carry a multitude of consequences should a conviction ensue. Not only will there be a loss of right to possess firearms, but individuals could face up to a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail, a $200 fine, supervised probation, and expensive drug testing and court fees. At May McKinney, we understand the difficulties those accused of domestic assault face. We are well prepared to meet these difficulties head on through strategic advocacy and creative negotiations. Should you need help today, contact our office at 615-256-7337 and regain control in a difficult time.