This case arises under the so-called Lautenburg Amendment of 1997, amending the Gun Control Act of 1968. The government argued for an expansive definition of what constitutes a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence, under which a person who engages in offensive touching, pushing, or even spitting in the context of a domestic relationship meets the federal requirement of “physical force.” The penalty for such an act is a lifetime ban on firearms ownership, and even innocent efforts to purchase or possess a firearm can result in the person becoming a felon.
CLDEF’s amicus curiae brief pointed out that it is not up to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives or the courts to give the statute a different meaning than chosen by Congress, in order to widen a statute’s effect. Moreover, after the Lautenberg Amendment was enacted, states were free to amend their laws, or enact new ones, in order to word them in such a way that they be covered by the Lautenberg Amendment. Finally, our brief argued that if the Court adopted the government’s broad understanding of what constitutes a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence, serious constitutional implications would arise with respect to the Second Amendment and defense of “hearth and home.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government, holding that the “physical force” requirement is satisfied by an “offensive touching” that satisfies a common-law battery conviction.