What is the Lautenberg Amendment? The Lautenberg Amendment, also known as the Lautenberg Law, is a 1996 amendment to the federal Gun Control Act of 1968.
The amendment prohibits people who have a domestic violence conviction from owning, possessing, or transferring firearms.
This prohibition lasts a lifetime, and the penalty for violating the law is severe.
The primary purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment is to discourage domestic violence by taking firearms out of abusers’ hands.
Despite the good intentions of the law, it contains some surprising consequences that many people consider unfair.
Who are “Prohibited Persons”?
“Prohibited persons” are people who are subject to the Lautenberg Amendment.
One of the unique aspects of the Lautenberg Amendment is that while federal and state law previously prohibited felons from possessing firearms, the Lautenberg Amendment prohibits people with even a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from owning, possessing, or transferring firearms.
Conviction for Other Offenses
It gets worse, at least if you are concerned that you might be breaking the law without even realizing it. Under the Lautenberg Amendment, you could be a prohibited person even if you have never been convicted of any offense called “domestic violence.”
Unfortunately, if you are a prohibited person, the police can arrest you whether you know you fall into that category or not.
Many different offenses not called “domestic violence” can tag you as a “prohibited person.” It is not the name of the offense that matters. It is the facts and circumstances surrounding your conviction.
If your conduct leading to the conviction met the definition of domestic violence, you are prohibited from possessing firearms. A conviction for disorderly conduct, for example, might qualify if it arose out of an altercation with your spouse.
To qualify as “domestic violence” for the purpose of classifying you as a “prohibited person” under the Lautenberg Amendment, your conviction must meet the following qualifications:
- You must have committed a violent act, attempted to do so, or threatened to do so; and
- The target of the violence must have been someone with whom you had a domestic relationship (a current or former relative, spouse, child, romantic interest, co-parent, or member of your household, for example).
Because of the fact-based nature of the “prohibited person” classification system, Nebraska can convict two people of exactly the same offense, and one will be classified as a prohibited person and the other will not.
Retroactive Application of the Law
One of the most surprising aspects of the Lautenberg Amendment is that it applies retroactively. That means it can apply to convictions that happened before the amendment came into existence.
The Lautenberg Amendment went into effect on September 30, 1996. Suppose that in 1985 you were convicted of a crime that involved domestic violence under the Lautenberg Amendment’s definition. You became a prohibited person on September 30, 1996, whether you know it or not.
Domestic Violence Plea Bargains
Another way that you could become a prohibited person without realizing it is through a plea bargain.
Suppose the prosecutor charged you with domestic violence, and in a plea bargain you agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge so that the prosecutor would drop the more serious charge. You might have been a completely innocent person who was simply trying to avoid a long prison sentence.
Nevertheless, if the charge you pleaded guilty to qualified as domestic violence under the Lautenberg Amendment and the facts and circumstances of your case, you became a prohibited person as soon as the judge accepted your guilty plea.
If you are a prohibited person, violation of the Lautenberg Amendment is a federal felony. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
If you have ever been convicted of any offense that might classify you as a prohibited person, and if you own firearms, you need to speak with an attorney immediately.
Nebraska State Law
Nebraska has a law that is similar to the Lautenberg Amendment. Under Nebraska law, you may not possess a deadly weapon, including a firearm, if you have a conviction of misdemeanor domestic violence within the last seven years. Nebraska law also prohibits felons from possessing firearms.
If the police catch you with a firearm and you are a prohibited person, Nebraska can imprison you for up to 50 years. If the police catch you with a deadly weapon that is not a firearm, the state can imprison you for up to four years.
Take Decisive Action Today
If you are facing domestic violence charges or a charge of violating the Lautenberg Amendment, you cannot afford to waste time.
We thoroughly understand the subtle nuances of Nebraska criminal law, and we are on good terms with many prosecutors and judges. The sooner you act, the better your chances are likely to be.