Court Weighs Gun Ownership for Domestic-Violence Offenders

CINCINNATI (CN) – An Ohio man who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge in 1997 argued before the Sixth Circuit on Wednesday that the federal law preventing him from owning a gun is unconstitutional.

Terry Stimmel sued the U.S. attorney general in Akron federal court in 2014, arguing that a misdemeanor domestic-violence conviction “cannot categorically be labeled a ‘serious’ offense” that precludes gun ownership.

The law at the center of the dispute – 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) – says it is unlawful for anyone “who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess any firearm or ammunition.

U.S. District Court Judge John R. Adams ruled in 2015 that Stimmel’s claim did not implicate the Second Amendment because “the prohibition at issue falls squarely within the authority to disarm serious lawbreakers in existence well before the enactment of the Second Amendment.”

And even if the argument had implicated the Second Amendment, Judge Adams ruled that the ban on gun ownership for perpetrators of domestic violence serves a compelling governmental interest.

Stimmel – who has since divorced and remarried – claimed that the lack of another conviction in the last 15 years affords him Second Amendment protections, but Judge Adams disagreed, finding that his status as a law-abiding citizen “offers him support to seek pardon – the remedy he contends is inadequate without having even sought it.”

On Wednesday, attorney Derek DeBrosse argued on Stimmel’s behalf in front of a Sixth Circuit panel, claiming the district court erred when it conducted “zero historical analysis” of the Second Amendment in relation to domestic violence, which he said was not considered a crime in the era of the founding fathers.

DeBrosse argued that Stimmel’s misdemeanor conviction in Ohio fell into a “weird gray area” of the law that punishes him more harshly than certain felony domestic-violence convictions.

Specifically, DeBrosse said some felony convictions require a sentence of exactly 365 days in prison, which would not invoke the statute that requires the revocation of gun rights for felony convictions with a sentence of over one year.

“There is an absurdity in the law where if Mr. Stimmel had committed a more serious crime, he would not have lost this right,” DeBrosse said.

U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Allen Griffin asked why Stimmel’s case is considered out of the ordinary, and said that the act of being a law-abiding citizen “is what we expect people to do.”

“It’s not [out of the ordinary],” DeBrosse replied, “And that’s why we feel [the law] is overly broad.”

Patrick Nemeroff, attorney for the federal government, argued that the gun ownership ban on people convicted of domestic violence serves a compelling government interest because of the recidivism rate of domestic-violence offenders.

U.S. Circuit Judge Danny Julian Boggs asked why all misdemeanor convictions don’t carry the same penalty, especially “serious” offenses like perjury or bribery.

While Nemeroff conceded that some misdemeanors are as serious as domestic violence, he argued that the government views domestic-violence misdemeanors as seriously as felony convictions because of the difficulties inherent in getting felony convictions, including the reluctance of victims to testify against their assailants.

In his rebuttal, DeBrosse argued that a misdemeanor conviction cannot categorically be labeled a “serious crime,” adding, “If my client had committed a serious enough offense, the state of Ohio would have charged him with a felony.”

Stimmel and his wife sat in the back row of the Sixth Circuit courtroom for the arguments.

No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.

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