Restraining Orders & Gun Control Laws
New Jersey's statute governing orders for relief, title 2C, section 25-29(b)(16) of the New Jersey Code.(104) permits the court, when issuing a restraining order, to prohibit the defendant from possessing any firearm or other weapon. In addition, it also permits the court to order a search and seizure for such firearms or weapons.(105) Comparatively, seven states enforce the same law, except not all authorize the court to search and seize the surrendered weapons.(106)
In general, although there are some weaknesses in current states' statutes regarding the seizure and/or forfeiture of firearms, there are many states looking to implement or that have already implemented more restrictive domestic violence acts, protective orders, and/or firearm ownership laws that are equal to, if not stronger than, those already complied with in New Jersey. In over thirty jurisdictions there have been new bills and proposals crossing the desks of state legislators across the country to make the individual state's laws more efficient in the seizure and forfeiture of firearms and deadly weapons.(110)
SEIZING THE AMMUNITION FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: PROHIBITING THE OWNERSHIP OF FIREARMS BY ABUSERS
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution provides "the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."(2) The Second Amendment underlies "the extent to which the federal, state, and local governments can restrict or ban the use of guns."(3) Recently the right to bear arms was limited by the Gun Control Act of 1968,(4) then further limited by the Brady Law.(5) Now there is movement in both the federal and state governments to limit the right once again by banning firearm ownership by anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense. The question has thus become whether this restriction is justified.
Given the statistics of domestic violence and the use of firearms in these attacks, it is understandable why federal, state, and local governments have decided to constrict the scope of the Second Amendment and place restrictions on the rights of domestic abusers(6) to bear arms. Every year an estimated 1.7 million domestic violence attacks occur and in 1993, 88,000 of those attacks involved firearms.(7) In domestic violence attacks, "[a] gun is a great intimidator--the ultimate power tool in the arsenal of a batterer."(8)
In New Jersey alone, there were 86,631 acts of domestic violence reported to the police in 1995, an increase of 22% since 1994.(9) Of those 86,631 reported acts, almost 20,000 of these victims had previously filed orders against the same offender and 61 of these attacks eventually resulted in murder.(10) Moreover, the most staggering statistic is that firearms were used against domestic violence victims 471 times in 1995 alone, of which aggravated or serious injury resulted from almost half of the uses.(11) Domestic violence attacks are escalating, and rarely occur without some type of warning, such as verbal threats or nonlethal violence.(12)
Along with the enactment of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991,(13) [hereinafter the Act], New Jersey empowered its courts and police officers with a "weapon" of their own to combat the use of firearms in domestic disputes.(14) Under title 26, section 25-21(d) of the New Jersey Code, weapons can be seized at the scene of a domestic violence complaint under a police officer's discretion and the Superior Court can enforce the forfeiture of the seized weapons under certain circumstances.(15) However, under the statute as it now stands, domestic violence victims may not be receiving "the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide."(16) This is evidenced by the ever increasing number of domestic homicides and use of guns in domestic violence. As a result, there has been a wave of legislation seeking to amend the Act with such regulations as a total ban on the possession or ownership of firearms by anyone ever convicted of a domestic violence offense.(17)
In addition, many other states have begun to implement modifications to their statutes similar to that suggested by New Jersey's legislators.(18) As such it is clear that the belief across the country is that the prohibition of weapons in the hands of abusers will result in a reduction in the number of useless domestic homicides and serious injuries.
This Note will examine the increasing changes and stricter standards in domestic violence laws, in imposing penalties on offenders at both the state and federal level. Specifically, it will look into New Jersey's, other states', and the federal government's steps in implementing or attempting to implement a total firearm ban to individuals convicted of domestic violence. In addition, it will determine whether a national policy is the most efficient solution.
Part two will specifically evaluate New Jersey's current legislative position on gun seizure and forfeiture and the state's proposals to ban firearms to further maximize the protection of its citizens. Part three will explore New Jersey's current judicial position on seizure and forfeiture, how the courts have chosen to interpret the language of the Act in support of forfeitures, and whether the courts' ideologies will aid in enforcing a ban of firearms ownership by domestic violence offenders. Part four will take a general look at how the country is moving in the direction of legislation requiring the mandatory forfeiture of weapons and firearms by individuals with domestic violence convictions. Part five will examine a new federal law, the Lautenberg Act, which prohibits the ownership or possession of firearms if convicted of domestic violence and will explore the overwhelming response to this law.
Finally, this Note will explore whether the federal regulatory approach adopted under the Lautenberg Act is the most effective and efficient way of achieving the goal of a universal firearm ban for those convicted of domestic violence offenses. It will also consider whether a better solution is to leave the forfeiture of firearms to the individual states, which have already begun enacting similar legislation and, if so, whether the states should adopt and enforce their own version of the gun ban law tailored to their individual needs or enforce the federal government's version.
II. New Jersey's Rules and Procedures for the Seizure and Forfeiture of Weapons
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 came into effect on November 14, 1991.(19) At public hearings prior to the enactment of the Act, "[a] number of counties reported that police routinely confiscate and seize all weapons and firearms in the home as an added measure of protection."(20) As a result, a provision for weapon seizures was added to the Act.(21) The provision allows a law enforcement officer, who has reasonable belief that an act of domestic violence has occurred, to question those present to determine if weapons are on the premises and upon learning of the weapons, to seize those that the officer reasonably believes(22) will place the victim at risk of serious bodily harm.(23) After the weapons are seized, the officer is required to deliver them along with an inventory of all weapons seized to the county prosecutor.(24) Any weapons seized by the police shall be returned to the owner except upon order of the Family Part of the Superior Court, Chancery Division.(25) The county prosecutor will then have 45 days to petition a judge of the Family Court, with notice to the owner of the seized weapons, to forfeit the weapon(s) by taking title to it or to revoke any license or permit from the offender.(26) The weapons are then only returned if: (1) the complaint was dismissed by the complainant and the prosecutor has no probable cause to indite the offender; (2) the offender was found not guilty; (3) the court determined that no domestic violence situation still exists or (4) the court finds that the offender is fit and is not "a threat to the public in general or a person in particular."(27)
The Act permits law enforcement officers to seize weapons under two scenarios: (1) for safekeeping and (2) by court order.(28) Under the "safekeeping" scenario, a weapon can be seized if the officer sees or learns of the weapon and reasonably believes it poses a threat to the safety of the victim,(29) if the weapon is in plain view,(30) and by voluntary surrender of the owner, offender, or other third party.(31) An officer may also seize weapons pursuant to a court order.(32) Under the court order, the officer must demand the surrender of the weapons. If the officer is faced with a refusal, the officer can arrest the offender and search the premises for the requisite weapons.(33) Should the defendant be enjoined by the court, an order prohibiting the offender from possessing a firearm may be issued. As the offender is now subject to a restraining order, the offender has forfeited his right to own or possess a firearm permit or purchaser identification card.(34)
Overall, the current law in New Jersey permits, but does not require, law enforcement officials to search the premises and seize weapons where an act of domestic violence has occurred.(35) In addition, it bans permits and identification cards to purchase firearms for those domestic violence offenders currently under a court ordered restraining order prohibiting the possession of firearms.(36) No law bans the ownership of firearms if the person was only convicted of a domestic violence crime.
The problems in the current law and procedure promote questions as to those police officers who fail to search for or seize weapons because it is not mandatory and that the law provides no long term forfeiture of weapons for applicants with a past domestic violence offense. This problem alone raises concerns as to those abusers who were prohibited from possessing weapons under a restraining order, but when the restraining order is lifted or dismissed, can freely own a firearm again. These issues have sparked the New Jersey legislators to propose amendments to the Act to strengthen current legislation(37) to better maximize the protection from abuse that the law provides for the victims.(38)
III. Judicial Interpretations of New Jersey's Firearm Forfeiture Laws
Historically, the courts, in enforcing weapon seizures and forfeitures, were mindful of the legislators' intent in enacting the Act.(39) The courts have construed the language of the Act broadly and in such a way as to provide victims of domestic violence "the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide."(40) The courts, therefore, have held that weapons can be seized and forfeited from domestic abusers even if: (1) no underlying criminal activity occurred;(41) (2) the criminal complaint is dismissed;(42) (3) the petition to forfeit the weapons is filed untimely by the prosecutor;(43) or (4) the domestic violence complaint is dismissed and the domestic violence situation no longer exists.(44)
A. Is an Underlying Criminal Activity Required to Seize Weapons?
The courts have come to recognize times when it is necessary to seize weapons to provide for the safety and protection of the public. This concept is grounded in the courts' holdings in Hoffman v. Union County Prosecutor(45) and State v. Cunningham.(46) Under the current policy in New Jersey to "keep guns out of the hands of all dangerously unfit persons, criminal as well as non-criminal,"(47) the courts focused their attentions on the protection of the victim and the safety of the public rather than on the rights of the owners of weapons and domestic violence abusers.(48) In adhering to such policy and the legislative intent behind the Act,(49) both courts ruled that weapons could be seized at the scene of domestic violence even if the owner did not use or threaten to use the weapon in an unlawful manner,(50) or if the owner's actions were later found not to have been unlawful.(51)
Seizure and the later forfeiture of weapons, are always applicable to situations where a gun is possessed or used for criminal purposes, regardless of whether the owner of such weapons had ever been convicted in the past.(52) The courts in Hoffman and Cunningham extended that rule to domestic violence situations where the gun was not used or threatened to be used in an unlawful manner.(53) Additionally, both courts later disqualified the owners from possessing firearm identification cards under title 2C, section 58-3(c) of the New Jersey Code.(54)
B. To Which "Complaint" Does the Act Refer?
The provision of the Act that permits the forfeiture of weapons by the prosecutor has "triggering" events that require the court to return the seized weapons to the owner.(55) One of these events is "if the complaint is dismissed at the request of the complainant."(56) Much controversy has arisen over whether the legislators intended the term "complaint" to refer to a criminal complaint or a domestic violence complaint. The court in State v. Solomon(57) settled this element of confusion by ruling that the term "complaint" as used in title 2C, section 25-21(d)(3) of the New Jersey Code(58) refers to a domestic violence complaint and not the criminal complaint.(59)
In so holding, the court reasoned that the Act was created to provide victims of domestic violence a third option of relief by allowing them to file a domestic violence complaint in addition to the regular civil and criminal remedies already available to them.(60) Further, if the Act was intended to enforce a criminal remedy it would have made a specific reference to a criminal "complaint," thereby informing the victim that a criminal remedy is what the court was seeking to provide.(61) However, that was not the intent of the legislature. Rather, their purpose was limited to the return of seized weapons if the domestic violence complaint and the criminal complaint were no longer pending against the alleged abuser.(62) Providing otherwise would defeat the concept of additional protection to domestic violence victims.
C. Are The Limitations and Deadlines Placed on the State Easy to Overcome or Do They Restrict the Potency of the Act?
The Act clearly requires a prosecutor to petition the court for forfeiture of weapons from a domestic violence abuser within 45 days of their seizure; if not they must be returned to the owner(s).(63)
(i) Knowledge and Possession of Seized Weapons
Although the provision leaves little room for interpretation, the court in State v. Saavedra,(64) questioned when the 45 day "countdown" generally began.(65) The 45 day rule presupposes that the prosecutor has knowledge and/or possession of the seized weapons.(66) Therefore, the court held that when the requisite knowledge is absent the prosecutor does not have the ability to pursue forfeiture.(67) As a result, the 45 day period does not begin to run until the prosecutor either comes into possession of the seized weapons or has knowledge of their seizure.(68)
The intent of the Act played a large role in the court's resculpturing of the language of the Act. A decision that would have returned the weapons due to a failure to petition forfeiture in a timely matter would not have maximized the protection of the victim.(69) Rather, the victim's safety would be unduly jeopardized by the ineptness of the law enforcement agency in informing the prosecutor.
(ii) The Existence of a Restraining Order
The court in State v. S.A.(70) also expanded the relatively unambiguous 45 day provision of the Act, to not bar forfeiture if it was untimely and a restraining order against the owner of the weapons is still in existence. The court held that the mere fact that a prosecutor did not file for forfeiture within the 45 day period does not automatically mean that the owner has the right to have his weapons returned because he was still subject to a restraining order.(71)
The court reasoned that the 45 day provision has to be balanced along with the provision of the Act that clearly contemplates forfeiture if "the owner is unfit or that the owner poses a threat to the public in general or a person or persons in particular."(72) It is only when an offender is no longer deemed a danger to the public or the victim, that a restraining order can be modified or lifted, so while it is intact, he is still considered a threat.(73) As such, a court is not at liberty to return weapons simply because the State failed to petition for forfeiture.(74)
In addition, requiring the return of weapons while a restraining order is in place is in direct violation of federal law which prohibits offenders subject to restraining orders to possess weapons.(75) If the Act was interpreted otherwise, the victim and the public would be placed in danger. This would stand as an impediment to the purpose and intent of Congress in enacting the federal law thereby raising serious concerns about federal preemption.(76)
D. Can the State Maintain Forfeiture When the Domestic Violence Complaint or Situation No Longer Exists?
Again, the provision in the Act that prohibits the return of weapons to an "owner [who] is unfit or . . . [who] poses a threat to the public in general or a person or persons in particular" demands forfeiture in situations where a lay person reading the Act would believe the return of the weapon was mandatory. As discussed, there are three "triggering" events that require the courts to return weapons to their owners.(77) These events have been read to conflict with the provision denying the return of weapons to those posing a danger to society. However, the courts in In re Return of Weapons of J.W.D.(78) and State v. Volpini(79) have attempted to iron out the inconsistencies by interpreting the Act in a way that the events are not triggered unless the owner is deemed fit for ownership and is no longer a threat.
The court in Volpini held that under the Act a withdrawal of a domestic violence complaint does not require the court to dismiss a forfeiture proceeding.(80) The court noted that the Act includes two inconsistent provisions which have caused conflict when interpreting them together to determine when forfeiture is appropriate and when weapons must be returned.(81)
The first paragraph of title 2C, section 25-21(d)(3) of the New Jersey Code states that weapons can be forfeited if the owner is unfit or is a potential threat to the health and safety of the public and person(s).(82) The fourth paragraph states that the court must order the weapons returned if any "triggering" event has occurred.(83) The court in Warrick interpreted the inconsistency by holding that the fourth paragraph overrode the first and that the presence of any of the "triggering" events mandated the return of weapons, regardless of the first paragraph.(84)
The court in Volpini, however, found the logic in Warrick to be incompatible with the true legislative intent of the Act.(85) In order to ensure the "maximum protection" and the "broad application" of prosecutorial powers as provided for under the Act, the court held that it must always contemplate the merits of the state's forfeiture proceedings and/or contention that the offender poses a threat before ordering the return of weapons.(86)
The court in In re Return of Weapons of J.W.D.(87) reached a similar conclusion in ruling that even though a domestic violence complaint had been dismissed voluntarily by the victim and the domestic violence situation was abated, the weapons could not be returned to the owner unless he was found not to pose a threat to the public or to the victim.(88) This court also recognized the inconsistencies between the two paragraphs in title 2C, section 25-21(d)(3) of the New Jersey Code and went along with Volpini in disagreeing with Warrick.(89) Therefore, if the domestic violence concerns no longer exist, but there is a question remaining as to the safety of the public and victim if weapons are returned, then the court is allowed to order forfeiture.(90)
Overall, New Jersey's courts are relatively liberal in interpreting the language of the Act, yet are strict in enforcing it. As such, it is presumable that New Jersey courts, in executing either their own or the federal firearm ban for domestic violence offenders, would permissively adhere to its terms and sternly implement its condition--not to own or possess a firearm if convicted of domestic violence. The future of such legislation resides with this type of statutory interpretation, for if the law is not rigidly enforced by the courts, it losses its effectiveness, deterrence, and overall strength.
IV. How Do Other States Compare to New Jersey?
By far New Jersey has one of the strongest domestic violence laws regarding firearm and deadly weapon seizures at the scene of a domestic violence act and forfeiture proceedings. Few states have domestic violence Acts and of those limited states that do have such Acts, the provisions for weapon seizure and forfeiture tend to have stricter requirements placed on both the law enforcement agents and the prosecutors, placing minimal burdens on the offender who owns the weapon.(91) However, what some jurisdictions lack in effective domestic violence acts, they make up for in strict firearm laws or in pragmatic statutes governing protective orders.
A. Domestic Violence Acts
The Domestic Violence statutes in other jurisdictions are more lenient, requiring at most, the following: that weapons are seized only if the weapon was used or threatened to be used against the domestic violence victim;(92) that the state only has ten days to petition for forfeiture.(93) The courts are encouraged to return the seized weapons if: (1) the court's reasonably believes that the victim is no longer endangered and/or that the weapon is no longer required for evidentiary purpose,(94) (2) the offender's reasonably justified his conduct that initially caused the seizure,(95) and (3) if at the end of domestic violence proceeding, surrender was not ordered.(96)
The state that is most similar to New Jersey in providing significant protection to domestic violence victims by virtue of issuing broad law enforcement and prosecutorial powers is Arizona.(97) Arizona's statute enables law enforcement officials to seize weapons and firearms temporarily upon (1) learning or observing of their presence, (2) a plain view discovery, or (3) a consensual search of the premises.(98) In addition, the statute permits the State to file forfeiture proceedings, without a time limit, if it believes the offender still poses a threat to the victim and in turn leaves the decision to the court's discretion.(99)
B. Firearm Laws
In comparison to other states, New Jersey's firearm statute, title 2C, section 58-3 of the New Jersey Code, which only prohibits firearm permits and identification cards if the person is currently under a restraining order, is weak. Although there are many states that enforce the very same law;(100) there are states that are one step ahead and prohibit the ownership or possession of a permit to own a firearm if the person has been convicted of domestic violence within the proceeding five years.(101) This provision is something New Jersey has only recently proposed(102) and what the federal government has only recently enacted.(103)
C. Protective Order Statutes
New Jersey's statute governing orders for relief, title 2C, section 25-29(b)(16) of the New Jersey Code.(104) permits the court, when issuing a restraining order, to prohibit the defendant from possessing any firearm or other weapon. In addition, it also permits the court to order a search and seizure for such firearms or weapons.(105) Comparatively, seven states enforce the same law, except not all authorize the court to search and seize the surrendered weapons.(106)
Nevertheless, there are those few states that are inefficient in their protective orders and only empower the courts to order the surrender or prohibit the possession of weapons that the defendant actually possessed or used while committing the domestic violence act(107) or the court reasonably believes that the defendant may use or threaten to use a weapon against the victim.(108) These statutes place too much faith in the abuser and the restraining order. The mere fact that the abuser did not use or threaten to use a weapon in the domestic violence act resulting in the order, does not signify that the abuser will not use one in the next act. In fact, as previously noted in Part I, most domestic abuses involving firearms follow numerous other acts of abuse without firearms.
Where some states are more permissive, there are other states looking for more ways to protect the victim. Such states have imposed conditions on a defendant's release from prison or on bail to protect the victim of domestic violence, by issuing orders not to commit further acts of domestic violence or to use or possess a firearm or weapon.(109)
D. State Proposals for Improved Legislation
In general, although there are some weaknesses in current states' statutes regarding the seizure and/or forfeiture of firearms, there are many states looking to implement or that have already implemented more restrictive domestic violence acts, protective orders, and/or firearm ownership laws that are equal to, if not stronger than, those already complied with in New Jersey. In over thirty jurisdictions there have been new bills and proposals crossing the desks of state legislators across the country to make the individual state's laws more efficient in the seizure and forfeiture of firearms and deadly weapons.(110)
Much like those in New Jersey these bills are seeking the following reforms: (1) mandatory seizure of all weapons at the scene of a domestic violence dispute,(111) (2) the additional relief in court orders of prohibiting the offender form purchasing a firearm while subject to the order,(112) (3) prohibiting the offender subject to a restraining order from purchasing or possessing weapons for the extent of the order and three years thereafter,(113) (4) prohibiting the ownership or possession of a firearm or license to have a firearm if under a domestic violence restraining order,(114) (5) ordering the seizure of all weapons or firearms in the actual possession or use of defendant during the domestic violence act,(115) and (6) banning firearm ownership or possession if the offender was convicted of a domestic violence offense.(116)
The largest problem these new laws face is efficient enforcement. For instance, a new state law in Wisconsin, which prohibits someone under a court restraining order from possessing a firearm during the duration of the order, has received little response.(117) The Oneida County Sheriff stated that he had received only three weapons since the law became effective on April 1, 1996.(118) "The whole idea was to take guns out of the hands of abusers. That doesn't happen with this law."(119)
Overall, there are over twenty-five state domestic violence statutes across the country fighting to keep the weapons out of the hands of abusers. Some laws are stronger in effectiveness and enforceability than others, but one cannot discredit the efforts being made. However all states should be sending the message to abusers that they can no longer violate the rights of victims and keep all of their rights too, such as the right to bear arms.
V. The Lautenberg Act: Is it the Solution?
On May 14, 1996, a bill to prohibit persons convicted of a crime involving domestic violence from owning or possessing firearms was introduced at the Second Session of the 104th Congress.(120) On September 28, 1996, as part of a massive federal spending bill, Congress passed(121) and President Clinton signed what is now referred to as the Lautenberg Act.(122)
Some view the Lautenberg Act as the selective prosecution of gun owners, while others view it as the federal government infringing on the rights of the states. However, the victims of domestic violence view the law as hope, recognition, and change.
In all, the Lautenberg Act prohibits anyone from owning or possessing a gun or ammunition, if that person had ever been convicted of a misdemeanor which involved the use or attempted use of physical force or a threat to use a deadly weapon against a spouse, child, intimate partner, or other cohabitant.(123) The maximum punishment for noncompliance is a $250,000 fine and ten years in prison.(124) There are only a few instances in which the Lautenberg Act is inapplicable. Firearms can only be returned if: (1) the individual has received a pardon for the crime, (2) the conviction has been expunged or set aside, (3) the individual has had his civil rights restored, or (4) the individual is not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm.(125)
Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), the sponsor behind the new law, described his bill on the Senate floor on August 2, 1996 as "stand[ing] for the simple proposition that if you beat your wife . . . you should not have a gun."(126) Senator Lautenberg saw the amendment as a "victory for the victims of abuse," as he has emphasized in promoting this Act that most individuals who are charged with felonies, are ultimately convicted of only a misdemeanor because of plea bargaining.(127) As such, the Senator accurately noted a mere reduction of the charges against an abuser does not ameliorate the danger the individual may still pose to the victim.
The law was supported by many Congressmen for the same reasons. Congress was discouraged by the number of instances prosecutors plea bargain serious domestic violence offenses down to misdemeanors. Thus, in enacting the Lautenberg Act, Congress acted out of its concern for the safety of the public, as it was left unprotected by the current process.(128) These Congressmen reasoned that it was the duty of the federal government to treat these offenders as dangerous criminals.(129)
The Lautenberg Act amends both the Gun Control Act of 1968(130) and the Brady Handgun Law,(131) but many critics believe that the Act will not meet with the same success that those laws did. The Lautenberg Act is filled with problems, gaps, and constitutional implications, however it has meaningful intent which may aid it in its fight for survival.
A. The Scope of the Lautenberg Act
As the Lautenberg amendment went through its process to become a law, it was simply an amendment that added domestic violence misdemeanors to the list of conditions to prevent someone from owning a gun.(132) However moments before the vote was to occur, things changed -- leaving the newly enacted Lautenberg Act weak, vulnerable, and easy to challenge.
All other conditions in the Gun Control Act of 1968 have exemptions for government employees, such as law officers and the military, who use firearms in their official duties.(133) The Lautenberg Act does not. Representative Robert Barr, Jr. (R-Ga.) led a last minute effort to modify the amendment in ways that weaken it before approval, such as removing the "official-use" exception.(134) The lack of an exemption is not the only problem. The Lautenberg Act is also retroactive, meaning that law officers and individuals in the military who had domestic violence convictions ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago, lose the right to own or possess a firearm.(135)
The Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), sent an open letter to all local and state law enforcement officials on November 26, 1996, clarifying that they are in fact subject to the Act and requiring that any officer convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor to "immediately dispose of all firearms and ammunition in their possession."(136) As a result, the Justice Department is using an "honor system" and has ordered that all officers voluntarily turn in their weapons if they were ever convicted of a domestic violence offense, requiring agents, such as the FBI and DEA, to sign a document stating that they were never convicted of a domestic misdemeanor.(137)
With 700,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers and 1.2 million Americans serving in the military,(138) the Lautenberg Act leaves open an enormous unanswered question: What will happen to law enforcement officers and military personnel who can no longer own guns? The answer has been to assign violators of the new law to "unarmed" positions.(139) This solution has not met with much enthusiasm.
B. The Impact
The impact of the new federal domestic violence law has been noted, explained, and now is being pursued in court. Unlike private civilians, law enforcement officers and military personnel need to possess firearms to maintain their livelihoods, "[t]o a police officer [and a soldier], a gun is basic equipment, an essential tool of a cop's [and a soldier's] trade -- like a hammer to a carpenter."(140) The debate is whether public governmental officials should be treated differently than private citizens when it comes to domestic violence.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are having mixed emotions about the law and are having trouble enforcing it.(141) However, the military, through the United States Department of Defense, has created a uniform approach to enforcing the law, entitled the Interim Policy.(142)
(i). Enforcement: How?--By Whom?--At What Cost?
Nationally, some 19,000 law enforcement entities are affected by the new law.(143) Implementing the law may be difficult since none of these 19,000 entities are instructed, aided, or funded as to how to enforce the Act. No state or national database of misdemeanor offenses is even in existence.(144) In addition, ATF has no plans to create a nationwide database to conduct searches.(145) At the local level, law enforcement agencies are not likely to keep misdemeanor records for more than a few years, if at all.(146) As such, local and state law enforcement agencies must do their own searches and background checks, to the best of their ability. Pursuant to a recent Supreme Court case, Printz v. United States,(147) local law enforcement officials cannot be required to perform background checks. Although the federal government does not have the authority to require state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct background checks, the agencies are being asked to make a "reasonable effort," similar to that already required under the Brady Handgun Law, to determine whether prospective gun owners have past domestic violence convictions.(148)
Many states, however, are having difficulty determining what is a "reasonable effort." In conforming with the law, states have relied on various means of enforcement such as: rejecting applicants who have records indicating past domestic violence misdemeanors;(149) placing departments in charge of searching through the personnel files of their officers to locate violators;(150) asking for officers to return a sworn statement that the officer has never been convicted of a misdemeanor;(151) and sending lists of officers to the state Department of Justice for a records check.(152)
On the other hand, the Syracuse's police department is not too optimistic on the efficient enforcement of the Act. The authorities there are relying on the honor system, hoping violators will bring themselves forward, however, there has been little done to promote the law, many misdemeanor offenses do not show up on records, and there is no practical way to investigate who should be turning in their firearms.(153) In addition, officials at the Los Angeles Police Department pessimistically look at the solution to the law as firing those officers not permitted to possess a firearm.(154) The chief complaint of many state and local law enforcement agencies is that they do not know how many of their officers may be affected by the new law.(155)
On the other hand, the military has the process of enforcement more under control. Recently, the DOD implemented the "Interim Policy for Implementation of Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Amendment to Gun Control Act for Military Personnel."(156) This policy includes such features: as requiring supervisors to take immediate steps to remove weapons from offenders of the Act; subjecting military personnel to discharge or separation if they violate the Act after September, 30 1996; and authorizing commodores to reclassify, reassign or temporarily detain military personnel if it is discovered that the Act may have been violated.(157)
Not only is the enforcement of the Act questionable, but its effectiveness is as well. In the past, both federal laws and state laws dealing with domestic violence and gun control have met with little response.(158)
For example, a Sacramento, California resident had a 1992 felony conviction for stalking his former wife.(159) He was subsequently arrested for possessing a gun while under a restraining order in violation of the 1994 restraining order statute.(160) The penalty was a stiff 2 1/2 years in prison, however, as a result of plea bargaining, the charge under the 1994 federal domestic violence law was dismissed,(161) once again proving how the federal domestic violence laws are neutralized.
In 1996, 2,000 people were denied handguns under the new law.(162) In New Jersey alone, the first year of enforcement denied 280 of 24,672 applicants handguns.(163) The results are reassuring, however, similar to the 1994 law, the problem with the Lautenberg Act is that not many people are aware of it and those that are aware of it find it easy to ignore. A Prosecutor from Dover City, New Hampshire poignantly noted that misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and the subsequent forfeiture of firearms is a crime "like tearing the tag off a mattress--who's going to know?"(164)
For maximum effectiveness, the federal and state legislators need to vigorously promote the Act,(165) the judiciary needs to rule on the Act with a heavy hand, and the local and state law enforcement agencies need to put their differences about the Act aside and make sure the Act is enforced at all scenes of domestic violence if the Lautenberg Act is going to reduce the number of domestic homicides.
(iii) Law Officers Reaction to Law: Lawsuits
Due to the fact that the Lautenberg Act is both broad and retroactive, "reaching into the background of every peace officer in the nation--law enforcement agencies have reacted with confusion, outrage, and legal challenge."(166) Those bringing suit against the Act range from officers that had to forfeit their firearms to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and police unions.(167) All parties allege that the gun ban law is unconstitutional. These parties claims include: (1) that the law violates the commerce clause,(168) (2) that it violates the equal protection clause(169) because it only affects people who have domestic violence misdemeanors, (3) that it is ex post fact law as it punishes people again for crimes committed years ago,(170) and (4) that it has the impact of "double jeopardy" because it punishes domestic violence offenders twice.(171) There are also complaints alleging that the federal government is infringing on state and local prerogatives.(172)
In addition, the FOP has also raised a civil rights issue stating that "irreparable harm could result if the law is enforced before the constitutionality of the law is explored" and this would jeopardize the careers of hundreds of law officers and military personnel.(173) There is optimism however, that the Act will be upheld as constitutional.(174) At this point, the future of the Act and its success lies in the federal courts and on Capital Hill.(175)
D. Other Loopholes and Consequences
The Act has brought domestic violence, a once unspoken crime, to the forefront of legislation. However, critics exclaim that the Act is wrought with obstacles. Besides the problems with retroactivity and the application to officers of the law and military, this Amendment has some unavoidable loopholes and unintended consequences which might prevent the Act from being fully successful. However, not all laws are flawless, and sometimes they do not work out their glitches until they are enforced for awhile.
The goal of the Lautenberg Act is to safeguard the public, however, there are loopholes in the Act which have already allowed individuals who have once committed domestic violence to own and possess firearms. The first loophole is that the ATF has instructed agencies across the country that a person is not considered convicted if the charge did not entitle one to a jury trial.(176) The problem comes up in states like Nevada, where jury trials are not part of the misdemeanor judicial process.(177) In addition, the ATF has limited the application of the Act to officers convicted of abusing their spouse, the mother of their children, and people with whom the abuser lives.(178) Initially, this may not sound too problematic, but what about girlfriends? They are not protected under the limited application that the ATF uses. Another loophole is that law officers, with domestic violence convictions, can be pardoned for their conviction by their state's governor or by the U.S. Treasury Secretary.(179)
Presumably, California is not alone in creating the next loophole which permits Californians with a clean record since their domestic violence conviction, to "skirt" around the federal law for a mere $100 fee.(180) These now "clean" offenders can go to court and have their guilty plea deleted or expunged from their records.(181) This expungement frees those individuals from being penalized for the conviction, such as being banned from possessing a firearm under the Lautenberg Act.(182) Finally, some state statutes created a loophole allowing domestic violence offenders to circumvent the gun ban. In Minnesota, for example, there is a section of the state's rule of criminal procedure that allows a judge to set aside guilty pleas to domestic violence.(183) The rule provides that a judge can "withdraw a guilty plea if extraordinary circumstances that surface later would create a `manifest injustice'."(184) The effect is as if the plea was never entered.(185)
In addition to these loopholes, the unintended consequences of the Act have drawn concern. These consequences include the effect of the law on women, and the decrease in plea bargaining with a subsequent increase in trials.
There are two ways in which the Act may negatively impact women. The first way is that under the new law, as it applies to law officers and military personnel, women may be more fearful to report abuse because they are faced with the possibility that it could end their husband's career.(186) Therefore, these women may choose not to file a complaint knowing that the failure to file will save their husbands' jobs. The second problem is that women are not exempt from the new law, thereby stripping women of their best means of self-defense.(187) As a result, the question being asked is "how would a woman realistically protect herself from an abuser intent on inflicting severe injury or death" without a gun?(188)
The next concern is that there will be fewer guilty pleas to misdemeanor domestic violence and more requests for jury trials, as offenders attempt to avoid the gun ban.(189) However, the effect will not just be an overload of the court docket and hindered prosecution. There will also be fewer women reporting domestic abuse as the process gets harder. Frequently, it comes down to the word of the abused being pitted against that of the alleged abuser at trial and it is left for the jury to determine who is telling the truth.(190) The delay in waiting for a trial also allows more time for reconciliations before the abuser is adequately punished.(191) By contrast, Plea bargaining almost guarantees that the offender will be punished in some form.(192)
E. Legislative Response
Under the United States Constitution, retroactive penalties are deemed illegal.(193) However, courts have become more understanding of Congress' desire to punish individuals after the fact and as a result have given more latitude to legislation with this effect.(194) The question becomes whether or not courts will extend this policy of leniency with the retroactivity of this particular Act. This concern is currently being argued in Congress. As of January 7, 1997, Representative Robert Barr, the House Republican responsible for withdrawing the exclusion for government officials when the bill was initially passed, is pushing legislation to keep the Clinton Administration from enforcing the Lautenberg Act retroactively.(195) Barr claims that he is concerned with protecting the constitutional right to bear arms(196) and that the Constitution prohibits punishing someone after the crime has been committed.(197)
Senator Frank Lautenberg, the sponsor of the Act, is adamantly against repealing the retroactivity of the Act, stating that retroactive application of the law was always intended because "prohibiting retroactive enforcement of the law against . . . convicted domestic abusers would place many abuse victims at risk for their lives."(198) In response, Lautenberg proposed a bill to the House that would exempt government entities, but still apply retroactively.(199)
The debate by Congress has broken down to a simple determination of fairness. Is it fair to say that someone can never be a police officer? Is it fair for the federal government to walk in and take the livelihood of officers and soldiers? Is it fair to leave victims unprotected from domestic violence abusers who own firearms?
Many believe the law is beneficial and should undoubtedly apply to law officers and the military, as they are no different than other domestic violence abusers. The public outside of these two realms do not see why the police or military should be above the law: "[w]ho is to say that someone who uses unnecessary violence against a spouse or child may not do the same against the public?"(200) As such, those that dedicate their lives to enforcing the law should be subject to it as well.(201) Maybe the threat of losing their job may encourage them to think twice before beating their wife or child.(202)
Therefore, although the laws may be unfairly retroactive and have a few other flaws, there is also sentiment outside of the governmental agencies, that believe this law is generous and honors the needs of victims of domestic violence and that the lack of an exemption to police and military officers is justified.
Some possible solutions for Congress are: (1) to leave the Act as it is and allow state judges to use their discretion to determine whether or not to exempt local and state police officers from the ban,(203) and similarly allow federal judges to determine whether military personnel is exempt; or (2) to exempt convictions after 10 or 15 years have passed.(204)
Both arguments for the exemption and for the retroactivity are strong and convincing. However, the law will be useless if both are maintained at their current level. If a median is met, both sides will be pacified and the negative impact on the law enforcement and military officials will not be as severe. What needs to remain clear is that the law is intended to protect the victim, thus, any changes must consider the effect on this objective.
F. Is It The Federal Government's Responsibility to Ban Guns or the States'?
In Sections I, II, and III of this Note, states' roles in implementing and enforcing firearm forfeiture laws were examined in great detail. In one New Jersey case, State v. S.A.,(205) the New Jersey court applied the state's gun forfeiture and seizure laws pertaining to offenders under restraining orders because they complied with the 1994 federal restraining order statute.(206) Consequently, federal law did not preempt the state statute. Thus, the question then becomes whether this new federal gun ban law applies the same way or with more force because, unlike the widely used restraining order laws, gun bans for domestic violence misdemeanors are only used in a few states.
It has been argued that for those states that do not have laws restricting gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence, "the federal law . . . hold[s] sway."(207) But does "hold sway" mean that the federal law will be the law of that state until the state creates its own law, or is the state now barred from creating its own law? The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution(208) will answer that.
However, the creators of the Lautenberg Act have argued that the "new laws are an attempt to supplement local [and state] law enforcement's role--not supplant it--with the federal government's `traditional role in restricting the availability of firearms.'"(209) The preemptive effect of the Lautenberg Act is unclear. Although there is no express preemptive language in the Act, there may be implied preemption when state and federal laws conflict, as has been previously used for the federal restraining order statute.
Another problem with this federal Act is its application to state and local law enforcement agencies. Critics see this law as the federal government's inability to diminish big government and reinstate the "governing authority" to the states, especially since the law allows the federal government to regulate local police departments.(210)
In response, some states are simply refusing to follow the federal law. Officials in Utah claim that the Act is not being adopted in their state. Utah is neither attempting to preempt the federal law, nor change it, rather it is opting to create its own "Brady-like laws."(211) As a result, the House Judiciary Committee is debating whether to implement House Bill 85, which intends to bring Utah law "in line" with the Lautenberg Act.(212) The question, then becomes, whether the federal government will infringe on Utah's right to create and implement its own laws.(213)
Other states are implementing their own laws in accordance with the standards set forth in the Lautenberg Act, but tailored to the needs of the individual state. For example, Illinois has proposed its own law which provides that "anyone convicted of domestic violence or violating an order of protection would be prohibited from obtaining a Firearm Owners' Identification Card."(214) Illinois believes that it needs its own provision for local enforcement reasons.(215) In addition, Rhode Island has its own state law already in place which provides "that from 1996 on, if convicted either of a single felony domestic violence charge, or three misdemeanor domestic violence charges, a person can lose his or her license to own or carry a weapon for two years."(216) This law is prospective, rather than retroactive, and limits the time that weapons are banned.(217) The state is now "scratching their heads" as to how to apply the two inconsistent laws.(218) As of now, Rhode Island is complying with the federal law, but it seriously questions its retroactive sweep.(219)
However, because many states do not even have legislation regarding the seizure and forfeiture of firearms, let alone legislation governing a ban of firearms for domestic violence offenders, leaving the ability to ban firearms to the states alone may not be enough to sufficiently enforce the new law. As such, there are two possible solutions. The first is to allow the individual states to create new laws or implement the laws that they already have, banning the possession of firearms by domestic violence offenders, tailored to the states' own needs and requirements. This state provision would not, however, preempt the federal law if it was not analogous--the individual statutes would have to meet with the same muster as the federal law.
The other solution would be for the federal government to set up procedures for the states to follow in conformity with the federal law and to provide adequate funding for such processes. The gun ban will most undoubtedly fail if the federal government expects the states to comply with this complicated and over broad law without assistance. In all, the negative reaction by many states may decrease when Congress analyzes the scope of the Lautenberg Act in more detail and possibly limits either its influence on state and local law enforcement agencies or its retroactive effect.
New Jersey is not alone in moving towards tougher domestic violence legislation. Numerous states have surpassed New Jersey or are close behind, and the federal government may have triumphed over them all by implementing what could amount to a strong national policy against domestic violence offenders having the right to bear arms. The Lautenberg Act and the various proposed and new laws of the states that ban the ownership or possession of firearms by individuals convicted of domestic violence signify that domestic violence is currently considered a serious offense. As such, it will be responded to with harsh penalties.
Legislators enacted these laws for the protection of the public by preventing future domestic violence homicides and violence with firearms. The efficiency of their enforcement depends on the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies of the individual states. However, the ultimate success of such legislation will be measured by its impact on the victim. For if the laws do not only provide more safety for the victim but also make the victim feel more secure, than the laws become merely a pretextual use for the federal government and states to implement stronger gun control measures.
Melanie L. Mecka
1. Maura Beth Johnson, Home Sweet Home?: New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, 17 Seton Hall Legis. J. 234, 260 (1993).
2. U.S. Const. amend. II. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55 (1980).
3. Inge Anna Larish, Why Annie Can't Get Her Gun: A Feminist Perspective on the Second Amendment, 1996 U. Ill. L. Rev. 467, 480.
4. 26 U.S.C.A. § 5801 (1968). This Act "prohibits convicted felons, drug addicts, minors, mentally ill people, anyone dishonorly discharged from the military, undocumented immigrants and people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship from buying or owning a gun." Id.
5. 18 U.S.C.A. § 925 (1993). This Law requires a 5 day waiting period and background check for prospective handgun purchasers. Id.
6. It is important to point out early on that the common masculine references to the defendant throughout this Note are based on the fact that a great majority of domestic violence is committed by men and that almost all literature written on domestic violence refers to the defendant/abuser as a man. Christopher R. Frank, Criminal Protection Orders in Domestic Violence Cases: Getting Rid of Rats With Snakes, 50 U. Miami L. Rev. 919, 921 (1996).
7. New Law a Good One Take Handguns From Abusers, Syracuse Herald-J., Dec. 20, 1996, at A22.
8. Id. Guns are 43 times more likely to be used against a family member than they are likely to be used against an intruder. See Anne O'Connor & Jim Adams, New Gun Restrictions Takes Most By Surprise/Cops, Hunters and Others are Affected by a Ban on Gun Ownership for Those with Low-Level Domestic Abuse Convictions, Star Trib. Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Dec. 13, 1996, at 1A.
9. 1995 N.J. Domestic Violence Uniform Crime Rep., 1 [hereinafter DV Rep.].
10. Id. The number of murders in domestic violence situations increased 45% from 1994 (when the number of murders was 42). In addition, the number of complaints issued against an offender who already had an order filed against him was up by 16%. Id. Furthermore, in 85% of domestic killings, the police had been called to the home at least five times. Id.
11. Id. at 8. In 1995, 237 aggravated and serious injuries were caused by guns, an increase of 25% from the 189 serious injuries in 1994. Id. Furthermore, 148 minor injuries resulted from the use of guns, which was a 16% increase from the 128 in 1994. Id. Overall, there was a 15% total increase in the use of weapons in domestic violence situations in one year, and these numbers represent only those that are reported. Id.
12. See Peter Wetzels, Family Violence in the United States and Abroad, 15 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 223 (1995). This article notes that nearly all cases of domestic homicide are proceeded by nonlethal violence. Id. In addition, it argues that domestic disputes are more likely to end up with a killing when there is a history of nonlethal violence and when guns are readily available in the home. Id. at 224. It denotes the idea that the chance of a killing would be reduced if the availability of guns to families with domestic discord are reduced. Id. See also Ronald Dolon et al., Police Practices and Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence, 14 J. Police Sci. Admin. 187, 188 (1986) (noting that the "best predictors of a violent act occurring are, in rank order, the presence of a gun: . . ."); David B. Koppel, Guns--Who Should Have Them? 268 (1995) ("[t]he day to day reality is that most family murders are preceded by a long history of assaults").
13. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-17 to 33 (West 1995).
15. See infra Part II for a discussion of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d) and the procedures and requirements in New Jersey for weapon seizure and forfeiture.
16. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-18.
17. See A.B. 2175, 207th Leg., 1st. Ann. Sess., (N.J. 1996) and A.B. 198, 207th Leg., 1st Ann. Sess. (N.J. 1996) infra note 37.
18. See infra Part IV for a discussion of the individual state policies regarding weapon seizure and forfeiture.
19. Johnson, supra note 1 at 246.
20. Id. at 250 (quoting the Advisory Comm. on Domestic Violence, Summary Rep. on N.J. Public Hearing on Domestic Violence (1988)).
21. Id. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d).
22. A standard of reasonable belief that a particular weapon may be used is necessary because the definition of a weapon is so broad that it could encompass any possible object that may cause injury. See Johnson, supra note 1, at 260 n.90 (citing N.J. Div. Crim. Just., In-Service Training for Police Officers (1991) (detailing the teaching strategies to be used to train law enforcement officers)).
23. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(1)(a) and (b). As long as the officer has a reasonable belief, he/she does not also need a restraining order on the offender in order to seize the weapons. N.J. Div. Crim. Just., Domestic Violence Procedures Manual at 1, 54 (1994) [hereinafter D.V. Manual] (detailing the procedures for law enforcement officers and the judiciary to follow in order to enforce the Act most effectively).
See also B. Hart, Assessing Whether Barterers Will Kill, Penn. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, (1990). This article states that officers should always try to determine whether an offender is likely to kill his partner and notes that one indicator of such a possibility is the presence of weapons, especially if it is known to the officer that the offender has used them or threatened to use them in the past. Id. The article reasons that "[t]he use of guns is a strong predictor of homicide." Id.
24. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(2).
25. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3). See also D.V. Manual, supra note 23, at 19.
26. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3). If a prosecutor should determine that a weapon may be returned to the offender, the prosecutor must notify the victim. D.V. Manual, supra note 23, at 19. The victim may than request a modification hearing to have the final restraining order include an order to forfeit weapons "in satisfaction of a previously ordered prohibition against possession of weapons." Id. at 55.
Also note that if the petition for forfeiture is not filed within 45 days of the seizure, the statute requires that the weapons be returned. But see infra notes 63-69 and accompanying text, where the court has been liberal with the standard by broadly defining the start of the running of the 45 day period. Furthermore, a summary hearing is required within 15 days of notice to the offender as to the forfeiture petition. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3).
27. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3).
28. D.V. Manual, supra note 23, at 9-10.
29. See, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d).
30. Note that if the weapon is not in plain view, but the officer has reason to believe that it is in within the premises jointly owned by the offender and the victim, the officer must obtain the written consent of the victim to search the premises for the weapon and seize it. D.V. Manual, supra note 23, at 10.
31. Id. An officer would need voluntary surrender only when the weapon was not located in the premises where the domestic violence occurred or where the premises is jointly owned by the victim and the offender. Id.
32. A space is provided on a restraining order for relief that the judge, in his/her discretion, believes is necessary to prevent further abuse in the domestic violence situations that he/she is faced with. Id. at 53. Under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-29(b)(16) a judge can attach to a restraining order:
Id. (emphasis added).
33. D.V. Manual, supra note 23, at 11.
34. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3(c)(6) (West 1995). Forbids the issuance of handgun purchase permits or firearm purchaser identification cards "to any person who is subject to a court order issued pursuant to section 13 of P.L.1991, c.261 (C. 2C:25-29) prohibiting the person from possessing any firearm." Id.
35. See the proposed New Jersey bill, A.B. 2175, supra, note 17. See also Fred J. Aun, Seized Guns at Issue in Lawsuit, Star-Ledger, June 28, 1996 (noting a current case questions whether police can seize weapons that do not belong to the domestic violence offender, but are in the house of the offender).
36. A.B. 2175, supra note 17. See also Legislator Bianca Takes Aim at Guns, Star-Ledger, May 18, 1995 (describing a situation where a state legislator, in promoting bills which would require the seizure of weapons at the scene of domestic violence and would restrict the purchase of firearms to anyone subject to a restraining order, noted that "it is alarming that the state currently allows domestic violence abusers to keep their guns in their homes.").
37. For instance, New Jersey's proposed bill, A.B. 2175, supra note 17, would add a domestic violence offender to the list of persons convicted for serious crimes and then amend, in pertinent part: (1) N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) to require the court to determine whether the offender should be disqualified under the provisions of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3, and it would add a new section that stated "If a weapon is found on the premises, the law enforcement officers shall demand and confiscate any firearms purchaser identification cards . . . ," (2) N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-29 to prohibit the possession of a firearms for two years after a conviction for domestic violence or release from prison and if the offender was subject to a restraining order, regardless of whether the restraining order contains a court order for weapon seizure and forfeiture, and (3) N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-7 to bar weapon ownership to persons convicted in this state or any other, of a domestic violence crime, a disorderly person misdemeanor (which would be amended to include domestic violence perpetrators under its definition), and a person whose weapon was seized pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) or subject to prohibitions under 2C:25-29(b).
In addition, New Jersey's proposed bill 1996 A.B. 198, suggests similar amendments such as prohibiting a person subject to a restraining order from purchasing a firearm for up to two years. Supra note 17. But this bill would also requires a court hearing before the offender receives permission to purchase firearms after the two year time period. Id. This bill also proposes to take the time limit requirements out of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3), such as the 45 day forfeiture petition period, and would place the burden on the offender to invoke a hearing by the court in order to have the weapons returned. Id.
38. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-18 (West 1995).
39. Id. The Legislative findings and declaration provision of the Act reads in pertinent part:
40. Id. See also Wene v. Meyner 13 N.J. 185, 98 A.2d 573, 578 (1953) ("[T]he reason of the statute prevails over the literal sense of terms . . . ."); Carfagno v. Carfagno, 288 N.J. Super. 424, 436, 678 A.2d 751, 757 (Ch. Div. 1995) (stating that "[t]he policy of the Act is to provide broad protection for the victim" of domestic violence.); State v. Volpini, 291 N.J. Super. 401, 411, 677 A.2d 780, 785 (App. Div. 1996); ("[w]e reject any statutory construction that would defect this purpose"); State v. Saavedra, 276 N.J. Super. 289, 647 A.2d 1348 (App. Div. 1994) (refusing to permit return of seized weapons despite the prosecutor's failure to file for forfeiture within statutory deadline).
41. See Hoffman v. Union County Prosecutor, 240 N.J. Super. 206, 572, 578 A.2d 1200 (Law. Div. 1990); State v. Cunningham, 186 N.J. Super. 502, 453 A.2d 239 (App. Div. 1982) (Antell, J., dissenting).
42. See State v. Solomon, 262 N.J. Super. 618, 621 A.2d 559 (Ch. Div. 1993).
43. See Saavedra, 276 N.J. Super. 289, 647 A.2d 348; State v. S.A., 290 N.J. Super. 240, 675 A.2d 678 (App. Div. 1996).
44. See Volpini, 291 N.J. Super. at 401, 677 A.2d at 780; In re Return of Weapons of J.W.D., 290 N.J. Super. 451, 676 A.2d 138 (App. Div. 1996).
45. 240 N.J. Super. 206, 572 A.2d 1200 (Law Div. 1990).
46. 186 N.J. Super. 168, 453 A.2d 239 (App. Div. 1982). (Artell, J., dissenting).
47. Hoffman, 240 N.J. Super. at 214 (citing, Burton v. Sills, 53 N.J. 86, 248 A.2d 521 (1968)).
48. Id. (concluding that seizing weapons temporarily to determine the owner's fitness to possess them is not overly intrusive); Cunningham, 186 N.J. Super. at 513, 453 A.2d 244 (reasoning that the purpose of the Act is to protect the public from unfit gun owners, and is not aimed at protecting or abolishing property or ownership rights).
49. It is important to note that in these cases the courts were following the Domestic Violence Act of 1981 as amended in 1982, which has the same underlying policy of maximizing the protection of victims of domestic violence. See Johnson, supra note 1, at 236-41.
50. Hoffman, 240 N.J. Super. at 214, 572 A.2d at 1204. In this case, the owner of the weapons was not even home when the weapons were seized. Id. at 208, 572 A.2d at 1201. His wife had been in a domestic dispute with her son and had called the police. Id. Union County, where the domestic dispute occurred, requires its law enforcement officers to ask whether weapons are present at every domestic violence scene. Id. Therefore, the police had a right to seize the weapons upon request of the wife based on her reasonably prudent concerns and fear. Id. at 213, 572 A.2d at 1203. In forming its conclusion, the court balanced the totality of the circumstances, in deciding whether to allow such aggressive police conduct or to wait for actual harm to occur before acting. Id. This court found victim safety more important and did not risk waiting.
51. Cunningham, 186 N.J. Super. at 511-13, 453 A.2d at 243-45. In this case, the owner of the seized weapons was arrested for shooting his wife at their home with one of his handguns. Id. at 504, 453 A.2d at 239. The charge was "no billed" by the grand jury and the complaint was dropped. Id. at 502, 453 A.2d at 239. The abuser moved for the return of his seized weapons. Id. at 504, 453 A.2d at 240. The court specifically held that "the police need not return a gun to its owner in such a case, although the owner had not used the gun unlawfully and no one had yet been injured." Id. at 513, 453 A.2d at 244.
52. Id. at 512, 453 A.2d at 239.
53. The court in Cunningham reasoned that it could "imagine many circumstances when, without a owner using a gun unlawfully, the police would be authorized to seize a gun in order to protect the public from danger . . ." Id. at 512, 453 A.2d at 244.
54. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3(c) (West 1995). Hoffman, 240 N.J. Super. at 215, 572 A.2d at 1205; Cunningham, 186 N.J. Super. at 513, 453 A.2d at 244.
55. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) (West 1995). These "triggering" events are: (1) "if the complaint has been dismissed at the request of the complainant, and the prosecutor determines that there is insufficient probable cause to indict," or (2) "if the defendant is found not guilty of the charges" or (3) "if the court determines that the domestic violence situation no longer exists." Id.
57. 262 N.J. Super. 618, 621 A.2d 559 (Ch. Div. 1993).
58. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) (West 1995).
59. 262 N.J. Super. at 621, 621 A.2d at 560. In this case, the complainant was the wife of the domestic abuser. After a call to the police because of alleged terroristic threats made by the abuser to complainant, a domestic violence complaint and a criminal complaint were filed and the abuser's firearms were seized. Id. at 620, 621 A.2d at 559. The Municipal court dismissed the criminal complaint. Id. After the dismissal of the criminal complaint, the abuser moved to have the firearms returned to him on the grounds that the word "complaint" in N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) refer only to a criminal complaint. Id. at 621, 621 A.2d at 560.
60. Id. at 622, 621 A.2d at 560-61.
61. Id. As support for the court's position that if a "criminal complaint" was intended it would have been stated, it cites numerous provisions in the Act where "criminal complaint" is referred to directly. Id. at n.5. For instance, see N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(a), which states, "[T]he law enforcement officer shall arrest the person who is alleged to be the person who subjected the victim to domestic violence and shall sign a "criminal complaint" if . . .", N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-23 stating "You may also have the right to file a criminal complaint against your attacker." Id. at 622, n.5, 621 A.2d at 561 (emphasis added). See also N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:25-21(b); and N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-25.
62. Id. at 623-24, 621 A.2d at 561-62.
63. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) ("If the prosecutor does not institute an action [for forfeiture] within 45 days of seizure, the seized weapons shall be returned to the owner.").
64. 276 N.J. Super. 289, 647 A.2d 1348 (App. Div. 1994).
65. In this case, the prosecutor filed a motion for the forfeiture of weapons and a revocation of authorization to purchase firearms within 45 days of when the prosecutor became aware of the weapon seizure, but 150 days after the weapons were actually seized by the police. Id. at 291, 647 A.2d at 1349. The owner of the weapons argued that because the prosecutor was untimely in filing a petition, his weapons should be returned. Id.
66. Id. at 293, 647 A.2d at 1350.
67. Id. at 293-94, 647 A.2d at 1350.
68. Id. at 294, 647 A.2d at 1350-51.
69. Id. at 292-93, 647 A.2d at 1349. Under the Act,
70. 290 N.J. Super. 240, 675 A.2d 678 (App. Div. 1996).
71. Id. at 249, 675 A.2d at 682. In this case, the victim filed a domestic violent complaint against her boyfriend. Id. at 242-43, 675 A.2d at 679. At such time, the offenders weapons were seized and a temporary restraining order was issued forbidding him to have possession of any weapons. Id. at 244, 675 A.2d at 680. In addition, the offenders final restraining order prohibited the offender from harassing the victim. Id. at 250, 675 A.2d at 683. The State failed to move within the 45 days to forfeit the weapons pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) and the offender demanded the return of his guns. Id. at 246, 675 A.2d at 681. As such, the Superior Court, Chancery Division ordered the return of the weapons. Id.
72. Id. at 249, 675 A.2d at 682. (quoting N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3)).
73. Id. at 249-50, 675 A.2d at 682-83.
74. Id. The court ruled that "guns may not be returned to [the] defendant so long as the domestic violence restraining order is outstanding." Id. at 251, 675 A.2d at 683. See also N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3(c)(6) (prohibiting the issuance of a handgun purchase permit or firearms identification card to a person subject to a domestic violence court order under N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:25-29).
75. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)(B) (1994). This statute bars firearm possession when the person is subject to a court order which "restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person" and "was issued after a hearing of which [the person subject to the order] received actual notice." Id.
76. 290 N.J. Super. at 249-50, 675 A.2d at 683.
77. See supra note 55, (stating the list of triggering events).
78. 290 N.J. Super. 451, 676 A.2d 138 (App. Div. 1996).
79. 291 N.J. Super. 401, 677 A.2d 780 (App. Div. 1996).
80. 291 N.J. Super. at 412, 677 A.2d at 786. In Volpini the wife of the offender refused to file a domestic violence complaint or seek a restraining order against her husband, so the law officer arrested the offender for simple assault and seized his weapons. Id. at 403, 677 A.2d at 781. The victim later filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband, she quickly withdrew it. Id. at 404, 677 A.2d at 781-82. The offender moved for the return of his weapons and the lower court complied relying on State v. Warrick, 283 N.J. Super. 169, 661 A.2d 335 (Ch. Div. 1995). Volpini at 405, 677 A.2d at 782. The Volpini court subsequently overruled Warrick. 291 N.J. Super. at 401, 677 A.2d at 780.
81. 291 N.J. Super. at 406-07, 677 A.2d at 783.
82. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) (West 1995).
83. Id. See supra note 55 for the list of "triggering" events.
84. 283 N.J. Super. at 179-180, 661 A.2d at 340. The court in Warrick reasoned that to adhere to the legislative intent of the Act, the court must return the weapons if one of the events exist that compel such a return and that there is then no need to determine whether the offender poses a threat to the public or persons. Id.
85. 291 N.J. Super. at 412, 677 A.2d at 786. The court relied on past cases discerning the legislative intent and underlying policy of the Act. Id. at 407, 677 A.2d at 783. See, T.S.R. v. T.C., 288 N.J. Super. 48, 671 A.2d 1068 (App. Div. 1996) (ruling that the underlying purpose of the Act must be ascertained in order to accurately interpret any inconsistent provisions of the Act); Saavedra, 276 N.J. Super. at 289, 647 A.2d 1348 (App. Div. 1994) (holding "[t]he reason of the statute prevails over the sense of the terms"). From such precedent the court in Volpini concluded that a rule requiring the return of weapons simply because the domestic violence complaint was dismissed, "would inhibit the Act's `maximum protection' by precluding a prosecutor from questioning a defendant's fitness to possess [weapons] in light of the qualifying circumstances provided for in the first paragraph." 291 N.J. Super at 412, 677 A.2d at 786.
86. Id. at 414, 677 A.2d at 787. As such the court in Volpini essentially requires the court to have a hearing as to the merits of the first paragraph and then after the hearing, the court can consider the plain factors under the fourth paragraph should one of the "triggering" events exist. Id. at 415, 677 A.2d at 787.
87. 290 N.J. Super. 451, 676 A.2d 138 (App. Div. 1996).
88. 290 N.J. Super. at 453, 676 A.2d at 139. In this case a domestic violence complaint was issued by the wife against her husband after a shoving match. Id. at 453-54, 676 A.2d at 139. A TRO was filed that required the offenders weapons to be seized. Id. at 453, 676 A.2d at 139. After a hearing the complaint against the offender was dismissed but the state still filed an objection to the return of his weapons pursuant to title 2C, section 25-21(d)(3) and 58-3f of the New Jersey Code. Id. at 454, 676 A.2d at 139. The court issued the state's petition and the judge revoked the offender's identification card and ordered forfeiture of the seized weapons. Id. The lower court reasoned that the offender's past behavior with weapons, such as drawing and aiming them in the home, gave the court probable cause to believe that the return of the weapons "would not be in the interest of the public health, safety, or welfare" of the victim or the public. Id. at 458, 676 A.2d 141. This court agreed with the logic of the lower court, but did not find the offender a threat and ordered the weapons returned. Id. at 461, 676 A.2d at 143.
89. Id. at 460, 676 A.2d at 143. Subsequently, the court held that the legislature intended the Act "to authorize continued action against the weapons and permits where the burden of showing a continued public or personal danger is carried by the State." Id.
91. Only thirteen states have domestic violence statutes that provide stipulations as to weapon seizure and/or forfeiture. See Alaska Stat. §§ 18.65.515(b), 12.55.015(f); Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3601(c), Cal. Penal Code §§ 12028.5 (4)(b), (u)(e); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 134-7.5; Iowa Code § 236.12(2)(d); 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 60/304(a)(2); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 46-6-603; Md. Ann. Code, Fam. Law § 4-511(c); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.8; Okla. Stat. tit. 22 § 60.8; 18 Pa Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(b); R.I. Gen. Laws § 2919.25; Utah Code Ann. § 77-36-2.1(1)(b); Wash. Rev. Code. § 10.99.070.
There are a few other states that have domestic violence acts or statutes, however those acts contain no provisions for weapon or firearm seizures. See, Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 209A, § 3; Minn. Stat. § 518B.01; Mo. Ann. Stat. § 455.010.
92. See Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 46-6-603(1) (providing that "a peace officer who responds to a call relating to partner or family member assault shall seize the weapon used or threatened to be used in the alleged assault"); Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 60.8(A) (providing
"[e]ach peace officer of this state shall seize any weapon or instrument when such officer has probable cause to believe such weapon or instrument has been used to commit an act of domestic abuse . . . .").
93. See Cal. Penal Code § 12028.5(e); Okla Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 60.8(B).
94. See Cal. Penal Code § 12028.5(b), containing the proviso that unless the court finds the victim will be in danger if the weapons are returned:
a firearm or other deadly weapon is not retained for use as evidence related to criminal charges brought as a result of the family violence incident or is not retained because it was illegally possessed, the firearm or other deadly weapon shall be made available to the owner or person who was in lawful possession 48 hours after the seizure or as soon thereafter as possible, but no later than 72 hours after the seizure.
See also 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. ch. 60/304(c) (stating where the statute requires, without an opportunity for the court to determine whether the offender poses a threat to the victim, that "any weapon seized under subsection (a)(2) shall be returned forthwith to the person from whom it was seized when it is no longer needed for evidentiary purposes."); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 134-7.5(d)(1) (stating where the statute orders the return of weapons/firearms if no evidentiary purposes exist for retaining it).
95. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 60.8(C) (providing that weapons are returned to their rightful owner or legal possessor if the owner can "prove at the forfeiture hearing that the conduct giving rise to the seizure was justified" . . . .).
96. See MD. Code Ann. Fam. Law. § 4-511(c).
97. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3601.
98. Id. But see N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-21(d)(3) (West 1995) and the accompanying text relating to the procedures set forth in the DV MANUAL, supra note 23. In addition the Arizona statute also prohibits the seizure of weapons belonging to the victim unless there is "probable cause to believe that both parties independently have committed an act of domestic violence." Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3601(a).
99. Id. However, unlike title 2C, section 25-21(d)(3) of the New Jersey Code, the Arizona statute does not provide other requirements like the dismissal of the complaint, the offender being found not guilty, or the domestic violence situation no longer existing. Under the Arizona statute as it reads, these issues can still be viable and the weapons returned. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3601.
100. These statues often require the order to expire before the privilege to carry a firearm is returned to the abuser. However, courts are given the authority to allow firearm permits to be returned prior to the order's expiration. Yet, the circumstances for such a return are unclear. For example, see section 237.110(10) of the Kentucky Revised Statutes which provides in pertinent part:
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 237.110(10) (Banks-Baldwin 1997).
Some statutes are more specific and forceful than others, requiring the firearm itself to be surrendered and not just the permit. For instance in section 813.12(4)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes, a domestic violence injunction shall require "the respondent to surrender any firearms that he or she owns or has in his or her possession . . . ." Section (4)(b) then prohibits the return of said firearms until a court determines: (1) that the injunction has been vacated or expired and (2) that "the person is not prohibited from possessing a firearm under any state or federal law or by an order of any federal court or state court . . ." Wis. Stat. Ann. § 813.12(4)(b) (West 1997).
See also NEV. REV. STAT. § 202.3657(3)(g); W. Va. CODE § 61-7-4(a)(6); N.C. GEN. STAT. § 14-269.8(a).
101. See Alaska Stat. § 18.65.705(4)(G) which states that a person is qualified to receive and hold a permit to carry a concealed handgun if the person "has not been convicted, within the five years immediately preceding the application, of, and is not currently charged under a complaint, information, indictment, or presentment with any of the following misdemeanor offenses or similar laws of another jurisdiction:" and then includes "of a crime involving domestic violence . . .;" D.C. Code Ann. § 6-2313(4)(B); Utah Code Ann. § 53-5-704(2)(f); Wash. Rev. Code Ann., § 9.41.040(b)(i) (giving examples of similar provisions).
102. See supra note 37 discussing New Jersey's proposed bills on prohibition of firearm ownership if convicted of a domestic violence offense.
103. See infra note 120.
104. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-29(b)(16) (West 1995).
105. Only one other state, New Hampshire, also authorizes the court to order a search and seizure for those weapons ordered to be surrendered at the defendants home. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:6 (VII).
106. For the most part, these seven statutes provide for protective orders that mandate the defendant to temporarily relinquish his/her firearm or weapon and refrain from owning, possessing, or purchasing additional weapons or firearms throughout the duration of the restraining order. See Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(a); Del. Code Ann. tit. 10 § 1045(a)(8); Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-1-1001(3)(c); MD. Code Ann., Fam. § 4-506; Mich. Stat. Ann. § 552.14(3)(e); § 600.2950(1)(e).
It is important to note that some of these protective order laws are found in the states' domestic violence act, while others are found in more general protective order or injunctive relief statutes. Regardless of what type of statute the law is found in, it carries the same weight when the order is violated.
107. See Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.66-100(c)(6), (7).
108. See Section 14-07.1-13(2) of the North Dakota Code, which states:
109. See KY. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 431.064(2).
110. See H.R. 314, 19th Leg., 2nd Sess. (Alaska 1995) (enacted); S. 268, 19th Leg., 2nd Sess. (Alaska 1995) (enacted); H.R. 2025, 43rd Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 1997); H.R. 2562, 43rd Leg., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 1996) (enacted); S. 1444, 1995-96 Reg. Sess. (Cal. 1995) (enacted), A.B. 3400, 1995-96 Reg. Sess. (Cal. 1995); S.B. 113, 60th Gen. Ass., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Colo. 1996), H.R. 1039, 60th Gen. Ass., 2nd Sess. (Colo. 1996); H.R. 204, 138th Gen. Ass. (Del. 1995); S. 2830, 1996 Reg. Sess. (Fla. 1996) (enacted); S. 2326, 18th Leg. (Haw. 1995) (enacted); H.R. 686, 89th Gen Ass. (Ill. 1995) (enacted); S. 49, 89th Gen. Ass. (Ill. 1995); H.R. 141, 76th Gen. Ass. (Iowa 1995); H.R. 3026, 76th Leg. (Kan. 1995); H.R. 40, 1996 Reg. Sess. (Ky. 1996) (enacted); H.R. 568, 117th Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Me. 1995) (enacted); H.R. 336, 1996 Leg. Sess. (Md. 1996); S. 215, 1996 Leg. Sess. (Md. 1996) (enacted); H.R. 297, 1996 Leg. Sess. (Md. 1996); H.R. 6215, 180th Gen. Crt., 1996 Reg. Sess. (Mass. 1996); H.R. 1347, 94th Leg., 2nd Sess. (Md. 1995); S. 432, 68th Leg. (Nev. 1995) (enacted); S. 18, 1995 Reg. Sess. (N.H. 1995) (failed); S. 6621, 219th Gen Ass., 2nd Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 1995); S. 402, 1995 Reg. Sess. (N.C. 1995) (enacted); S. 2397, 54th Leg. Ass. (N.D. 1995) (enacted); H.R. 81, 1st Spec. Sess. (Pa. 1995); H.R. 5098, Jan. Sess., Gen. Ass. (R.I. 1995); H.R. 232, 121st Gen Ass., 1995-96 Reg. Sess. (Ohio 1995); S. 1337, 99th Gen. Ass., 1st Reg. Sess. (Tenn. 1995) (enacted); H.R. 445, 1995 Biennial Sess. (Vt. 1995); H.R. 2420, 54th Leg., 1996 Reg. Sess. (Wash. 1996); H.R. 2685, 54th Leg., 1996 Reg. Sess. (Wash. 1996); H.R. 4077, 1996 Reg. Sess. (W. Va. 1996) (enacted).
111. See H.R. 2562, 43 Leg., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 1996); S. 2326, 18th Leg. (Haw. 1995); H.R. 3026, 76th Leg. (Kan. 1995); H.R. 297, 1996 Reg. Sess. (Md. 1996); S. 215, 1996 Leg. Sess. (Md. 1996); S. 18, 1995 Reg. Sess. (N.H. 1995); H.R. 81, 1st Spec. Sess. (Pa. 1995). For the most part these bills provide for a provision similar to that already enacted in New Jersey and that is the seizure of all weapons that are in plain view of the law enforcement officer. Out of these seven bills, three have been enacted and one (1) has failed (S. 18, 1995 Reg. Sess. (N.H. 1995)). New Hampshire's bill, which failed. It merely proposed that law enforcement officers seize weapons at the scene of a domestic violence act. It was not made clear why it was refused.
However, the legislators in the state of Hawaii asserted their intentions for wanting a statute like S. 2326, 18th Leg. (Haw. 1995) enacted in their jurisdiction. In 1994, Hawaii enacted a statute to prohibit the possession of firearms by a person subject to a restraining order. The legislature soon recognized thereafter that many victims of domestic violence do not seek restraining orders, or if they do, the process can be long. Therefore, due to the immense danger of domestic violence, the legislature found it "eminently logical and absolutely necessary" to allow for the seizure of weapons and firearms by a law enforcement official at the scene of a domestic violence crime that are either in plain view or discovered on a consensual search. Id. An officer may do so "when the officer believes that such seizure is necessary for the protection" of the officer or the victim. Id.
112. For the most part the bills propose permitting a court to order forfeiture of weapons if the weapons were used or threatened to be used in the act of domestic violence. See, H.R. 2025, supra note 110 (permitting the court, upon a finding that defendant may inflict harm on victim, to prohibit defendant from possessing or purchasing a firearm); H.R. 336, supra note 110 (permitting the court to order defendant to surrender firearms under reasonable grounds, S. 268, supra note 110 (permitting the court to prohibit defendant convicted for domestic violence from possessing firearm used in the assault); S. 2397, supra note 110 (permitting court, under the belief that defendant likely to use, display, or threaten to use a firearm in further acts of violence, order defendant to surrender the firearm); S. 1337, supra note 110 (permitting the court, prior to release of defendant, to order that the defendant be prohibited from using or possessing a firearm).
113. H.R. 5098, supra note 110. Rhode Island's proposed bill, which is one of the most advanced, has yet to be enacted. In pertinent part it suggests that:
114. See H.R. 141, supra note 110 (claiming that domestic violence order requires the seizure of weapons/firearms involved in domestic violence assault); H.R. 40, supra note 107 (when subject to domestic violence order, defendant must surrender permit to own a firearm); H.R. 568, supra note 110 (stating that subject to domestic violence order, defendant is prohibited from possessing a firearm); H.R. 1347, supra note 110 (stating that when subject to a domestic violence order, defendant is not eligible to possess a firearm), S. 402, supra note 110 (stating that when subject to domestic violence order, it is unlawful to purchase or attempt to purchase a firearm); H.R. 4077, supra note 110 (stating that when subject to domestic violence order, individual is not eligible to purchase a firearm).
115. See H.R. 314, supra note 110 (noting that this bill also created Alaska's first official Domestic Violence Act); H.R. 3026, supra note 110 (noting that under this bill all weapons in plain view must be seized); S. 268, supra note 110 (noting in this bill that weapons are not given back until acquittal); H.R. 81, supra note 110.
116. This is a progressive concept in that it takes steps to a total ban on firearm possession by convicted domestic abusers. Out of seven states making this proposition, it has been enacted in at least four states already. See H.R. 314, supra note 110 (prohibiting possession or ownership of firearms by defendant if the firearm was involved); S. 113, supra note 110 (prohibiting the issuing a permit to carry a firearm if applicant was found guilty of domestic violence or has other unresolved domestic violence charges still pending); S. 2830, supra note 110; H.R. 686, supra note 110 (prohibiting applicant convicted within the past five years with domestic violence from owning a firearm); H.R. 6215, supra note 110 (requiring an investigation into statewide domestic violence records before issuance of firearm permit); H.R. 2420, supra note 110 (prohibiting the possession of firearms to someone who committed crimes against another family/household member).
Most of the above legislation disqualifies a person from applying for a firearm permit if he/she had been convicted of a domestic violence crime. However, many of the proposals are still weak in a few areas. For instance, some bills lift the suspension upon a defendant's release, the expiration of protective order, or the disposition of the matter in favor of the defendant. See H.R. 314, supra note 110 (amending Alaska statute 18.65.735 and 705). These menial efforts do not ensure that the defendant is no longer a threat to the victim.
In addition, some statutes ban the ownership of a firearm if the applicant had been convicted of a domestic violence offense within the past five years, but only if a firearm had been used by or in the possession of the applicant during the crime. See H.R. 686, supra note 110 (amending 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/4).
Of all these decrees, Florida's is the most effective in that it amends its current statute section 790.065 to include "prohibiting the sale of a firearm to any person who has had an injunction for protection against repeat violence entered against him or her . . . ." S. 2830, supra note 110. This amendment supplements the already existing prohibition for having an injunction for domestic violence against the person. This bill is strong because it not only bans ownership of firearms to those convicted of a domestic violence crime, but it also prohibits possession to those that were only under a domestic violence restraining order. As a result, this bill encompasses a larger quantity and quality of abuser and removes the access to guns from those abusers that have yet been convicted of the crime.
117. See supra note 100 (containing the statute's operative language). See also New Wisconsin Law Gets Little Compliance, Assoc. Press Pol. Serv., Oct. 11, 1996, available in 1996 WL 5423614.
118. New Wisconsin Law Gets Little Compliance, supra note 117. This number is despite the fact that over 506 injunctions had been issued between January and August. Id.
119. Id. For instance, firearms are readily returned to those abusers who simply ask for them back for hunting season. Compare this statute to Utah, where the law permits the Judge, by order, to have those convicted of crimes turn over their firearms, but not one gun has been turned over since the law was enacted in July of 1995. Id.
120. H.R. 3455, 104th Cong. (1996). In pertinent part the bill would first amend 18 U.S.C. § 921(a) by adding the following new paragraph:
(33) The term 'crime involving domestic violence' means a felony or misdemeanor crime of violence, regardless of length, term, or manner of punishment, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim share a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which such felony or misdemeanor was committed.
Next, the bill amended 18 U.S.C. § 922 by inserting the following new paragraph: "(9) is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, any crime involving domestic violence." H.R. 3455.
Finally, the bill would amend 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20) by inserting the following:
121. Congress passed the bill by a vote of 97-2. Roberto Suro & Philip P. Pan, Gun Law Backfires on Some/Officials Wrangle Over Responsibility, Hous. Chron., Dec. 28, 1996, at 10.
122. James Bovard, Disarming Those Who Need Guns Most, Wall St. J., Dec. 23, 1996, at A12. Congress did not hold any hearings on the Act before it was enacted. Id.
123. 18 U.S.C. § 922 (1997) (codifying the Lautenberg Act).
124. Id. at § 924(a)(2). It is important to note that this penalty is longer than the average sentence a convicted murderer serves in this country. See Bovard, supra note 122.
125. Janet Quist, Gun Ban for Domestic Violence Offenders Means Cities Must Take New Steps, Nation's Cities Wkly., Jan. 13, 1997, at 12.
126. Bovard, supra note 122. Bovard argues that the real presumption behind this Act is that "men must be disarmed in order to reduce an epidemic of wife killing." Id. Bovard sees the solution, not in legislation, but in more effective enforcement of the current laws. Id. Bovard sees the Lautenberg Act as doing nothing more than creating at least a million new felons in this nation. Id.
127. Domestic Violence and Firearms Laws, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Oct. 2, 1996, at A14.
128. James Bovard, Gun Control's Crippling Misfire, Washington Times, Jan. 2, 1997, at A10.
130. The Act amends the list of conditions that prevent someone from lawfully owning a firearm. See supra note 4. See also Robert O. Suro & Philip P. Pan, Law's Omission Disarms Some Police; Domestic Violence Act Has Some Officers Hanging Up Their Guns, Wash. Post, Dec. 27, 1996, at A16.
131. See supra note 5. The new law amends the Brady Law, which governs background checks and waiting periods, by ordering the Chief Law Enforcement Office (CLEO) to make a "reasonable effort" to determine whether prospective gun buyers would violate the law if they were issued a firearm. See infra note 147 and accompanying text on the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Brady Act's requirement of background checks.
132. Suro & Pan, supra note 130.
134. Id. Lautenberg responded to this last-ditch effort by saying that the Congressional Republicans "were threatening to hold up the whole show on this and we had to swallow it or risk seeing the whole appropriation's bill crash. Now it looks like it was intended to undermine the bill all along." Id. The Clinton Administration and the Republicans were bickering over which party has the responsibility of fixing the Act. Id.
135. Id. Lautenberg defeated Barr's proposal that the law apply only to future offenses so that anyone, whether a government official or not, who committed a domestic violence offense in the past, could still legally own and possess a firearm today. Id. The retroactivity of the Act is being challenged constitutionally. The concern is whether the law promotes "double jeopardy" by punishing an individual twice for the same crime. As such, many law officials nationwide will not yet enforce the law. Julian Lloyd, Police Up in Arms Over Revised Federal Gun Law--Some Law Enforcement Officials Are Balking at a New Law That Requires Those with Domestic Violence Convictions to Surrender Their Weapons, Christian Sci. Monitor, Dec. 18, 1996, at 4.
However, Laine Gibbs, Director of Colorado's Coalition Against Domestic Violence, makes an important assertion that retroactivity of the Act is essential as prior conduct by an abuser has been a critical element of the abuser's profile--"[w]e understand the dynamic of domestic violence--which is characterized by repeat offenses." Id.
See infra notes 166-75 and accompanying text for a discussion of the current legal actions taken by law officials regarding the retroactivity of the Act.
136. Thousands Likely Violating New Domestic Violence Gun Law, San Antonio Express-News, Dec. 7, 1996, at 21A. Air Force Major and spokesperson for the Defense Department, Monica Alioso, responded by stating "we're not in compliance with the law and we know we're not in compliance with the law." Id.
138. Arlene Levinson, Cops, Soldiers Fall in New Law's Cross Hairs - Domestic Violence Convictions Mean No Guns Allowed, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 7, 1996, at A4.
139. Tom Philpott, Military Combats Domestic Abuse, Colo. Springs Gazette Telegraph, Oct. 25, 1997, at 4.
140. Lloyd, supra note 135.
141. Note, many states are having the same problems with hunters as they are with law enforcement officers. The problems are the same for hunters, in that there are a large number of hunters in many states and thus it is and will continue to be difficult to regulate. For instance, in Minneapolis, there are over 80,000 licensed hunters, any number of which could be in violation of the law. The agency that issues licenses is just not large enough, nor equipped to screen applicants or make the background checks necessary to locate those with misdemeanor convictions. Minneapolis still has not figured out a workable approach and awaits for the law to become more commonplace before determining the best solution. Doug Smith, Effect of Gun Law Hard to Measure--12162 For DNR, There's No Clear Answer, Star-Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Dec. 22, 1996, at 15C.
142. See infra notes 156-57 and accompanying text for an explanation of the DOD's Interim Policy.
143. See infra notes 156-57.
144. Anne O'Connor & Jim Adams, New Gun Restriction Takes Most by Surprise, Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Dec. 13, 1996, at 1A.
145. Id. ATF has argued that they do not have the manpower to actively conduct a search nationwide for those domestic violence offenders in violation of the law. Denny Walsh, Little Attention to New Domestic Violence Laws, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 22, 1996, at A1.
146. Walsh, supra note 145, at A1.
147. 117 S. Ct. 2365 (1997).
148. Letitia Baldwin, Targeting Domestic Abusers, Maine Officials Wondering How to Enforce New Gun Restriction, Bangor Daily News, Dec. 7, 1996.
149. New Domestic Vio1ence Gun Law Includes Cops, Newsday, Dec. 19, 1996, at A27. The NYPD is currently starting to use this new application requirement, which will most likely cut a large number of applicants since past criteria for the position were limited to age, education, and felony records. Id. The NYPD has made domestic violence misdemeanors an "automatic disqualifier." Id.
Some states claim that their background checks are so extensive already that their departments should not be any violators of the law in their departments. See Susan Sward, New Gun Law Could Disarm Police Officers/ Weapons Banned For Cops Guilty of Misdemeanor Family Violence, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 13, 1997, at A1. (San Francisco) and Baldwin, supra note 148. (Maine). However, it is doubtful that domestic violence misdemeanors were seriously considered during these background checks, when most checks are primarily for felonies. Are all violations really looked at?
150. Eric Hanson, Domestic Violence Would Deny Laymen Weapon, Job/New Law Spurs Review of Personnel Files, Houston Chron. Dec. 30, 1996, at 13. Houston, Texas has taken steps in this direction by ordering their Internal Affairs department to search through personnel records. District and Northern Virginia have also started going through their personnel records. Suro & Pan, supra note 130.
151. Steve Nichol, Officers are the Target of Gun Control, Law Says Those With Domestic Violence Convictions Can't Carry Weapon, Sun-Sentinel Ft. Lauderdale, Feb. 4, 1997, at 1B. Palm Beach County is not alone in requiring written statements from its officers. Baltimore, Maryland is asking its officers to make a written declaration that they have never been convicted. Suro & Pan, supra note 130.
152. The San Jose police department is preparing a list of the names and social security numbers of its 1,400 sworn officers to send to the Department of Justice. Sward, supra note 149. However, this spiteful measure will most likely be unsuccessful, as the Justice Department is not equipped with a system to handle these types of searches. Id.
153. Syracuse Herald-Journal, supra note 7.
154. Kenneth Reich, Dozens of Officers Could Lose Weapons Under New Domestic Violence Law, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 28, 1996, at B1. Is it not fair for these officers to either lose their jobs or be given desk jobs?. Why were they not screened out before they were hired? See Domestic Abuse Penalties, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 5, 1997, at M4.
155. Police with Domestic Violence History Lose Guns, Seattle Times, Dec. 30, 1996, at A5. It has been argued that the impact on smaller police departments will be greater than that of larger departments, whereas larger departments can sustain the loss of a handful of officers. Smaller departments may not be able to function as efficiently with the loss of even two or three officers. See Eric Hanson, supra note 150, at 13.
156. U.S. DOD: Defense Department Policy Issued to Implement Amendment to Gun Control Act, Presswire, Oct. 23, 1997, at M2. The purpose of the policy is to ensure that the new Domestic Violence law is applied "fully, fairly, and consistently throughout the services" without infringing on individual rights. Id.
157. Id. Note that this policy also contains a disclosure form, upon which a failure to sign may result in the immediate revocation of the individual's right to possess firearms. Id.
158. The old federal law, enacted in 1994, prohibited the ownership of firearms if the person was under a restraining order for domestic violence. This law was largely ignored. O'Connor & Adams, supra note 144. Only three cases have been initiated under this statute since June of 1996, one each in Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota. Walsh, supra note 145, at A1.
159. Walsh, supra note 145, at A1.
161. Id. U.S. Attorney, Benjamin Wagner, stated that he accepted a plea bargain to a charge which carried the same maximum penalty as the domestic violence law. Id. But if the violators do not see the law in action and used as a tool, in reality, how much of a deterrent is the law.
162. Adam Piore, Law Denies Guns to 2,000 in First Year, Rec.--Northern New Jersey, Oct. 1, 1997 at A2.
164. Associated Press Pol. Serv., Dec. 30, 1996, available in 1994 WL 5430204.
165. For instance, in California, all restraining orders include a notice of the federal laws applicable to the defendant and their penalties. Walsh, supra note 145, at A1.
166. Sward, supra note 149, at A1.
167. See LA Cops Challenge New Domestic-Abuse Gun Ban, West's Legal News, Jan. 2, 1997, available in 1997 WL 706; FOP Files Suit to Block Domestic Violence Gun Ban Law, U.S. Newswire, Jan. 21, 1997, available in 1997 WL S 7104409; Bill Rankin, Union to Judge: Quit Letting Cops Lose Jobs to New Gun Law--Four Fulton Deputies Have Been Fired Because Anyone Guilty of Domestic Violence Cannot Carry Firearms, Atlanta Const., Feb. 4, 1997, at A1.
168. West's Legal News, supra note 167.
171. O'Connor & Adams, supra note 144, at A1.
172. See infra text accompanying notes 201-14 (discussing the reaction of the states to the federal law and the laws preemptive affects).
173. U.S. Newswire, supra note 167.
174. David Pace, Associated Press Pol. Ser., Jan. 8, 1997, available in 1997 WL2492802. Congressional legal experts have concluded that the Lautenberg Act would withstand any constitutional challenges. Id.
175. See infra text accompanying notes 189-200 (discussing the new amendments being proposed to rectify the inconsistencies of the Act).
176. Federal Gun Law Expands, Las Vegas Rev.-J., Dec. 10, 1996, at 3B.
178. Carla Crowder, Gun Ruling Upsets Abuse Activists, Rocky Mt. News, Dec. 3, 1997, at 5A.
179. Arlene Levinson, et al., New Gun Law Makes Thousands of Law Officers Law Breakers - Federal Measure Prohibits Domestic Violence Convicts From Carrying Weapon, Milwaukee J. & Sentinel, Dec. 7, 1996, at 5.
180. Maria C. Hunt, New Gun Law for Barterers Comes Armed with Loophole, San Diego Union-Trib., Jan. 20, 1997, at A1. A municipal court judge in California found it important to note that expunging a conviction from someone's record does not mean that the conviction has been erased. Rather, the conviction remains with a notation next to it which says that the person was granted relief. Id.
182. Id. Expungements are not granted to offenders who have recently pled guilty or are currently serving sentences or probation. Id. Some states, such as Florida, prohibit the expungement of domestic violence convictions. Id.
183. Chris Graves, Officer Gets Gun Back, Returns to Work After Court Ruling, Star- Trib. Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Jan. 7, 1997, at 1B.
184. Id. This rule was recently used to set aside Lt. Dale Barness' guilty plea to fifth degree domestic assault against his wife in 1991. Id. Barness was one of five Minneapolis officers who had to forfeit his weapon under the new gun ban law. Id. Four of those five officers have since received their firearms back. Id. The Judge ruling in Barsness' matter, defended his decision on account that "Barness admitted he was wrong, made no attempt to defend or justify the abuse, completed `each and every condition of his probation,' went through anger management counseling, and sought out additional counseling on his own." Id.
185. Id. at 1B.
186. Karen Lee Ziner, Gun Ban For Spouse Abusers is Questioned--A New Federal Law Says That Those Who Have a Record of Spouse Abuse Cannot Own a Gun. The Law's Impact on Law Enforcement Officers Is Unclear, Providence Sunday J. Bull., Jan. 5, 1997, at A1. The repercussions may not be worth it to the abused wife--"if you're a young mom and you've got kids dependent on Dad's law enforcement career, are you going to call it in?" Id. See also Susan Saxe Clifford, Domestic Abuse Penalties, L.A. Times, Jan. 5, 1997, at M4.
187. Bovard, supra note 122. This articles notes the danger of disarming women by telling the story of Polly, a New York woman whose gun was seized by police after she waved it at her husband (from whom she was separated) when he threatened her at her mother's house. A week later, when Mrs. Pryzbyl went with her mother to her husband's house, he gunned them down. Id.
188. Bonners S. Coffmen, Editorial & Comment, Removing Abuser's Guns Could Backfire on Victim, Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 12, 1997, at 8A.
189. Jason Wolfe, Gun Ban to Deter Abusers Draws Fire - The Federal Law Will Lead to Fewer Guilty Pleas in Domestic Violence Cases, Cumberland County's Top Prosecutor Says, Portland Press Herald, Feb. 7, 1997, at 1A.
192. For instance, in Portland, Maine, a plea bargain for a first time offender will almost always result in a 30 day suspended sentence and one year of probation. A hunter, for example, may be willing to risk conviction at the hands of a jury for the chance to keep his weapons. "A week in jail is worth the risk to a guy who considers hunting an important part of his life." Id.
193. U.S. Const. art. 1, 59, para. 3 states: "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."
194. Stretching the Constitution, Rocky Mt. News, Dec. 14, 1997, at 2B.
195. Pace, supra note 174. Barr introduced House Bill, H.R. 26, 105th Cong. (1997), which would amend the Lautenberg Act by adding the clause: "firearms prohibitions applicable by reason of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction do not apply to convictions obtained before the prohibitions became law."
196. U.S. Const. amend. II, providing the right to bear arms.
197. U.S. Const. art. 1 § 9, para. 3, prohibiting retroactive laws.
198. Pace, supra note 174.
199. The bill proposed by Lautenberg is House Bill, H.R. 445, 105th Cong. (1997), which would amend the Lautenberg Act by adding, in pertinent part: "firearms prohibitions applicable by reason of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction do not apply to governmental entities."
200. Gregory J. Urban, letter to the editor, New Gun Provisions Are Illegal, Unfair, Allentown Morning Call, Jan. 8, 1997, at A14.
202. No Exceptions for Abusers, Greensboro News & Record, Dec. 28, 1996, at A8.
203. See Jeff Collins and Jonathan Volzke, Law Extending Firearms Ban is Targeted for Amendment - POLICE: Some Groups Want to Exempt Military and Law-Enforcement Personnel from the Prohibition, Orange County Reg., Feb. 6, 1997, at B4 (noting California law already provides for police exemption from their misdemeanor gun ban law).
204. See Good Gun-Control Law, Salt Lake Trib., Jan. 7, 1997, at A6.
205. 290 N.J. Super. 240, 675 A.2d 678 (App. Div. 1996). See supra notes 70-76 and accompanying text.
206. See supra note 75.
207. Seattle Post Intelligencer, supra note 127.
208. U.S. Const. Art IV, sec. 5. The federal law is backed by the Supremacy Clause.
209. O'Connor and Adams, supra note 144.
210. Disarming Plan/Disarm Abusive Police Officers, But Let State Law Do It, Houston Chron., Jan. 5, 1997, at 2. The author views the federal government intervention, through this new law, into local and state law enforcement agencies as "fraught with peril." Id.
211. Judy Fahys, House Battles Over Gun Bill That Disarms Domestic Abusers; Gun Bill Would Disarm Domestic Abusers, Salt Lake City Trib., Jan. 31, 1997, at A1. The president of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Association pointed out that the law provides no penalty for states that choose not to "mirror the federal law." Id.; See also Printz v. United States, 117 S. Ct. 2365 (1997).
212. Fahys, supra note 211.
213. Id. Note that 34 people in Utah have been denied firearms because of domestic violence convictions after background checks were completed. Id. This shows that despite Utah's grievances with the preemption of the federal law, it is already being implemented in Utah.
214. Terry Burns, Bill Urges Gun Ban for More Offenses, State J.-Reg., Feb. 1, 1997, at 13.
216. Ziner, supra note 186.
Modified Tuesday, November 17, 2009
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