United States v. Castleman | Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

United States v. Castleman

In 2001, plaintiff James A. Castleman was charged with, and pled guilty to, charges of misdemeanor domestic abuse towards the mother of his child. A few years later, federal agents discovered Castleman was illegally trafficking and possessing firearms. He was indicted on multiple charges, including violation of the Lautenberg Amendment (which prohibits convicted domestic abusers from possessing firearms) due to his prior conviction for misdemeanor domestic abuse. Castleman argued that although he pled guilty to the domestic assault and firearm trafficking charges, the Tennessee domestic assault law did not require a sufficient degree of physical force to constitute a crime of domestic violence under the Lautenberg Amendment and ban him from possessing firearms.

In 2010, a federal district court ruled in Castleman's favor, and in 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district court's decision. The case was then taken up by the Supreme Court, to which the Brady Center submitted an amicus brief in November 2013, opposing Castleman's arguments. Brady's brief was written by Covington & Burling LLP, and was joined by numerous gun violence prevention organizations, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center. In arguing for a broad reading of the Lautenberg Amendment, the Brady brief noted numerous studies that have shown is a strong, horrifying correlation between domestic violence and firearm-related fatalities--an abused woman is 6 times more likely to be killed if there is a firearm present in the home. In 2010 alone, at least 574 women in the U.S. were shot to death by a domestic partner.

On March 26th, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Castleman. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the physical force involved in Castleman's indictment clearly qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” and thus the Lautenberg Amendment applied, as he was an individual with a history of domestic violence. “The ban on domestic abusers owning firearms has been an important part of federal firearms law since it was proposed by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg in 1996. Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers unquestionably prevents gun violence,” said Jonathan Lowy, Director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project.