Guns, Ammunition and the Lautenberg Amendment: Federal Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction

The Lautenberg Amendment, Guns and Ammunition: The Federal Consequences of a Criminal Conviction. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.

A criminal conviction for almost all domestic violence crimes in Washington will result in the permanent loss of your federal right to possess a firearm or ammunition because of the Lautenberg Amendment, the short title for Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(9).  The language in the Lautenberg Amendment criminalizing possession of firearms or ammunition is different than losing your state right to possess a weapon.  Ironically, you can even restore your right to a firearm on the state level and still be prevented by federal statute from ever possessing a firearm. This technical problem in conflicting state and federal laws ends careers in law enforcement or armed forces even over minor incidents. Any job that requires you to have the right to possess a firearm or ammunition would be affected.   This amendment has no exceptions at present for any public or private agency personnel or member of any armed service.

This office has found exceptions to the permanent loss of your federal right to possess firearms by:

  1. avoiding convictions, or
  1. by avoiding convictions that fit within the Federal Statutes definition of “domestic violence”, which is different than the definition of domestic violence in Washington State.

Avoiding Convictions: Avoiding a conviction for domestic violence can be done by your lawyer in two ways: (1) winning at trial, (2) resolving your case in a way that avoids an admission of guilt.  There are many factors that must be considered by lawyers and clients when considering these options, starting with the evidence against you.  You and your lawyer can explore whether trial is appropriate or whether there is an option of entering any kind of agreement where the charge is dismissed without an admission of guilt.  We have seen state or county prosecutor’s offices either inadvertently or deliberately push the boundary of what is “acceptable” for avoiding an “admission or finding of guilt” according to federal law.  In our role as criminal defense lawyer | attorneys, we have been instrumental in forcing prosecutors to change language to “safe” within the meaning of federal law.

Avoiding the Federal Definition of Domestic Violence.   Anywhere in Washington, be it in Olympia, Everett, Bremerton or Seattle, the state definition of domestic violence is the same.   Though there are some additional charges for Domestic Violence that some city or tribes have created, the vast majority incorporates the State’s Revised Code of Washington directly, which makes the law universal no matter what Washington court you are in.  In order to avoid Lautenberg Amendment consequences, you must avoid its definition of domestic violence:

“has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”  

Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(9).

This definition reflects the federal congressional intent that, “anyone who attempts or threatens violence against a loved one has demonstrated that he or she poses an unacceptable risk, and should be prohibited from possessing firearms.” Congressional Record, p. S11878, September 30, 1996.

The only exceptions in Washington to this problem with the Lautenberg Amendment are misdemeanor domestic violence crimes that involve property destruction that do not involve threats of violence against a loved one (malicious mischief in the third degree) crimes between two platonic roommates, or avoiding anything that is a finding of fact or conviction. However, domestic violence property crimes or platonic roommate crimes are not automatically safe.   A state judge at sentencing has broad discretion in punishments. It is possible for a judge to enter a No-Contact Order that prevents weapon possession.   This is a fact specific issue that you should weigh with a lawyer any time you enter a plea; a judge has the final decision as to what punishment is appropriate.

You can restore your right to possess a firearm on the state level, RCW 9.41.040(4)(B), but again, this restoration does not restore your right to possess a firearm on the federal level if your criminal conviction fits the Lautenberg Definition.

The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases in the criminal and administrative arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple as the police reports or accusations claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch, uncompromising and effective counsel who takes the time to fight vigorously for the right result. Whether acting in our role as counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience working and fighting to resolve cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.