The legality of firearm possession for people who have committed crimes in California is often a difficult issue. If you have been convicted of certain crimes, not only are you subject to California’s laws restricting gun possession, but you are also subject to a strict federal law – the Lautenberg Amendment (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9)) imposes a lifetime ban on gun ownership by any person who has committed a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
This is easy to understand if you have a felony conviction: If you are convicted of any felony, regardless of your age or whether the conviction was in California, you are subject to a lifetime ban on gun possession under California Penal Code section 29800.1
However, with misdemeanors, the ban is less clear. California law also applies a lifetime ban on firearm possession to certain misdemeanors involving the use of a firearm, such as misdemeanor domestic violence crimes, assault with a firearm, or having two convictions for brandishing a firearm. This ban is consistent with the federal law.
Adding to the confusion is this: Under California Penal Code section 29805, California has a 10-year ban on firearm possession by anyone convicted of any of 40 different types of misdemeanors.2 Among those is the crime of misdemeanor battery.
While California’s Court of Appeal ruled in 2013 (Shirey v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission) that people convicted of misdemeanor battery under California Penal Code section 242 are not prohibited from possessing firearms under the federal law,3 a more recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court has cast doubt on the prospects of gun possession for people convicted of misdemeanor battery.
United States v. Castleman and the Meaning of “Physical Force”
In 2014, the Supreme Court upheld a lifetime ban on firearms for a man who had a misdemeanor conviction under a Tennessee domestic violence law for “intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to” the mother of his child. He had successfully argued in lower courts that his conviction for firearm possession was invalid because his prior conviction did not require proving he had violent contact with the victim, which was required under the law.4
The court in Castleman changed course, holding “that the requirement of ‘physical force’ is satisfied, for purposes of §922(g)(9), by the degree of force that supports a common-law battery conviction.”5 The court reasoned that the general policy behind the Lautenberg Amendment supports “grouping domestic abusers convicted of generic assault or battery offenses together with the others whom §922(g) disqualifies from gun ownership.”
Does this now mean that Californians who, like Shirey, were convicted of a lesser charge of misdemeanor battery in a case where the victim was a spouse will be subject to a lifetime ban on firearm possession under the federal law? That seems to be the direction that the Supreme Court intends for this law to go. Though no cases have yet been reported to indicate this is the case, if you have a prior misdemeanor conviction for battery, you should consult with an attorney before you decide to purchase a firearm at the end of your 10-year ban. Continue reading →