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Domestic violence abusers may gain right to firearms

Minnesota residents who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor may be able to purchase and own firearms if a Supreme Court decision goes their way. At present, the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits people who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from buying or owning guns.

People who have been convicted of felonies cannot buy guns. The federal law came into effect after it became apparent that people who engaged in domestic violence often pleaded down to a misdemeanor or were only charged with a misdemeanor in the first place. In some cases, these were serious assaults.

On Feb. 29, two men argued their cases before the Supreme Court. One of the men had been charged and convicted for slapping his girlfriend in 2003. He had another conviction for assault against her in 2005. In 2009, he shot a bald eagle. Since he was not supposed to own guns at all, under the Lautenberg Amendment, he might serve up to a decade in prison.

The legal battle over the amendment may rest on the word "recklessly" that is used to describe the state of mind of a person committing a crime versus knowingly or intentionally. The Supreme Court might find that this wording is too vague as a basis for the federal law.

The decision may have a serious impact on victims of domestic violence. It may put them in more danger than before. However, there are legal protections that people can seek if they feel that they are in danger from someone. A restraining order or order of protection prevents the other person from making contact. Victims of domestic violence may want to discuss their situation with an attorney who might provide advice about how they might best protect themselves.

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