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Are you prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law if you have a domestic violence conviction?

In 1996, Congress amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 by passing the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban.  

This law is more commonly known as the "Lautenberg Amendment," after the U.S. Senator who sponsored the bill in Congress.  

Under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), you are prohibited from owning, shipping, transporting, or possessing firearms or ammunition if you have been convicted in any court of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."

This is a federal lifetime ban on possessing or using firearms.  

FAQ: Lautenberg Amendment

What is the definition of domestic violence?

The definition of "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" (MCDV) is found in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33).

To be considered MCDV, the crime must be:

  • A crime that is considered to be a misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law
  • A crime that has--as an element--the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon
  • The crime is committed against a current / former spouse, a parent or guardian, or against a close family member with whom the victim is living or has lived in the past. 

Does the Lautenberg Amendment apply to anyone convicted of domestic violence?

No.

The Lautenberg Amendment only applies to people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, not felony convictions.

In practice, this distinction is irrelevant in Washington because defendants convicted of felony crimes of domestic violence will lose their firearm rights under a separate provision of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Under 18 U.SC. 922(g)(1), you cannot own a firearm if you have been convicted of a crime that carries a maximum possible penalty of more than 1 year in prison, and virtually every felony in Washington falls under this requirement.  

Is domestic violence the same under both Washington and federal law?

No.

The definition of "domestic violence is broader under Washington law than it is under federal law.

Under Washington law, any crime committed against a "family or household member" (i.e. a close family member or cohabitant) qualifies as a domestic violence offense.  

Under federal law, however, you are only guilty of a domestic violence if the crime involves the use of a deadly weapon or physical force.  

Example:  You come to your ex-girlfriend's workplace without permission and you are arrested and later convicted of criminal trespass in the first degree.

Under Washington law, you have committed "domestic violence" because an ex-girlfriend qualifies as a "family or household member."

Under federal law, however, you have not committed domestic violence because you did not use or threaten physical force and you were not armed with a deadly weapon when you were trespassing.

Therefore, under these facts, you are not subject to the Lautenberg Amendment firearms ban.   

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