ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A Mason Neck, Virginia, man who pleaded guilty to domestic assault in the early 1990s sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the head of the ATF Friday in a bid for permission to buy a gun despite a federal law barring him from doing so.
In a federal complaint filed in Alexandria, Robert Harley claims the charge he pleaded guilty to in 1993 stemmed from a simple misunderstanding, and that applying the Lautenberg Amendment, which bars him from gun ownership, to his case amounts to a violation of his constitutional rights.
Sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted to prevent gun ownership by someone with a restraining order against them or if they have “been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
While Harley did plead guilty to the charge, his lawyer, Marvin Miller, said his client deserves an exemption from the law because he was not an example of who the law was meant to target.
In the complaint, Miller said the 1993 incident was an overblown act of “unwanted touching” against his then-wife which quickly got out of hand and ended with a $75 fine and no jail time.
“There was no punching, slapping, hitting or violence,” he wrote. “Mr. Harley and his wife later separated and were divorced the following year, but remained on friendly and amicable terms”
Miller was also quick to add that while the complaint claims that Harley being barred from gun ownership is a violation of the Second Amendment, his client has no desire to see the law overturned.
“A statute may be constitutional, but it might not be in a specific, unusual circumstance,” Miller said in an interview with Courthouse News. “This statute, as it applies to this man – a volunteer fireman, a community member for decades, a man who earned master’s degrees and became a highly qualified engineer – as applied to him, it’s not constitutional.”
To that end, and without overturning the Lautenberg Amendment, Miller said Harley is hoping to get an exemption under the law.
He compared it to a faith-based decision by parents to not vaccinate their child before sending them to public schools, something many states have since adopted.
“[A state’s vaccination law] would be constitutional on its face, but as it applies to Christian Scientists, it would be unconstitutional,” he said.
Precedent is hardly on Harley’s side, however.
Baring those found guilty of any domestic assault charge has been held constitutional every time it’s come before the US Supreme Court.
The most recent example of this was in 2016’s Voisine v. US, a case in which a man from Maine who was twice charged with domestic abuse lost his bid to overturn the law.
“Congress enacted [the Lautenberg amendment] to bar those domestic abusers convicted of garden-variety assault or battery misdemeanors,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the Voisine opinion. “Congress thus must have known it was sweeping in some persons who had engaged in reckless conduct … Indeed, that was part of the point: to apply the federal firearms restriction to those abusers, along with all others, covered by the States’ ordinary misdemeanor assault laws.”
Harley is seeking a determination that his domestic assault case “is not a reasonable fit of [the Lautenberg amendment] to an important government interest, facially and/or as applied to him individually,” as well as injunctive relief.
A representatives of the Justice Department declined to comment.