The right for Americans to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right that is protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the right to bear arms is sacrosanct, there are exceptions and restrictions to gun ownership that have been upheld in the courts. Federal laws have been in effect for decades that prevent domestic violence offenders and respondents in valid protective orders from owning or possessing firearms. A Texas man’s recent challenge to a conviction under this law may result in a complete overhaul of these commonly used ownership restrictions for domestic violence prevention.
The defendant from the recently decided case was found to have firearms in his possession after a search warrant was issued for his residence in early 2021. The defendant had agreed in 2020 to a civil protective order preventing him from contacting or harassing an ex-girlfriend. Federal law prohibits persons subject to such protective orders from owning or possessing firearms. After the search, the defendant was arrested on federal charges and was ultimately convicted of the crimes as charged.
The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the federal law prohibiting him from firearm ownership was unconstitutional. Although the defendant’s constitutional arguments initially failed, the federal law on this issue changed when the U.S. Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen in 2022. In Bruen, the highest federal court created a new framework for evaluating the constitutional validity of firearms restrictions. Under the Bruen standard, the government had an increased burden in demonstrating the constitutionality of gun regulation statutes.
The Fifth Circuit applied the new standards from Bruen and found that the gun ownership restriction did not pass constitutional muster in this case. The defendant in the recent case had not been convicted of any domestic violence offense, as the protective order against him was only civil in nature. As a result of this, the defendant remained a member of “the community” as required under previous Second Amendment jurisprudence to ensure firearm ownership rights. Because the defendant’s right to bear arms was constitutionally protected, his federal conviction was overturned.
Although the Fifth Circuit invalidated this defendant’s conviction, some firearm ownership restrictions based on domestic violence convictions or criminal protective orders may still be enforceable. Anyone who is currently facing charges for possessing a gun as a restricted person should consult with a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney to determine if the Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit’s recent decisions may affect their case.
Challenging Firearm Charges in Texas
Convictions for the possession of firearms can include some of the most disproportionate punishments in criminal law. Often, people are arrested and imprisoned for possessing a firearm that they had no idea they weren’t allowed to own. With the new legal decisions coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, challenging these charges may have gotten easier. The experienced criminal defense attorneys with Guest and Gray are dedicated to representing our clients who have been accused of gun charges. If you’ve been accused of a gun crime, give us a call to talk about your case. Contact our offices at 972-564-4644 and schedule a free consultation today.