For many years the United States Government could not deprive you of your rights, without due process of law and a felony conviction. However, since the passage of the Lautenberg Amendment in 1996 tens of thousands of Americans have been deprived of their right to keep and bear arms for mere misdemeanors.
Lautenberg’s logic is if you commit any violent act then you should be deprived the use of firearms. The law enacted in 1996 was retroactive, meaning it not only affected future action but past actions as well.
Though supposedly aimed at serial wife abusers and others with a miscreant’s nature, this law in reality affected many people who were good tax paying citizens and had really done nothing wrong. Many had served their country in uniform and were guilty of nothing more than being in a foreign bar where a fight broke out and the MPs showed up and arrested everyone. Those poor folks have discovered that incident could cause them to be disbarred the ownership of arms.
This law has irritated me for twelve years, as it clearly is unconstitutional. Finally, the legality of this act will face the scrutiny of the United States Supreme Court.
A Marion County, West Virginia man named Randy Hayes was, to his stunned amazement, charged with felony gun possession in early 2005. To tell the full story we must go back to 1994 and an unfortunate incident in which he pled guilty to misdemeanor
battery charge stemming from an argument with his wife. The marriage failed and ended in divorce shortly thereafter.
Leap forward a decade and our story resumes with Mr. Hayes and his ex-wife angry with him over a disagreement about their son. In her anger, she called the police informing them he had a firearm. The police arrived and found a family heirloom Winchester rifle under Mr. Hayes bed. Hayes was arrested on the spot and was stunned as they cuffed him. Hayes was completely unaware that he was under any legal disability to own firearms. You see, when he pled guilty in 1994, there was no Lautenberg Amendment, and what he pled to was a misdemeanor. However, Lautenberg is a retroactive law.
Troy Giatras was retained as legal counsel to Mr. Hayes. Giatras commented, "Because he only pleaded guilty in 1994 to battery, not domestic battery. But the federal court interpreted it as domestic battery because it was against a family member." He continued, "In 1994 and in 1995, he was legally able to have a gun, the 1996 law was applied to him retroactively, but he didn't even know it."
The case went before the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia in October of 2006. The court over turned the original decision convicting Hayes, but the U.S. Justice Department decided to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court agreed in April to hear the case later this year.
Giatras made the point that this case will be very important as it will help settle the constitutionality concerning laws which retroactively affect the American people and, of course, infringements on our Second Amendment rights.
"You make a decision based on what the law is, as opposed to what it will be in the future," he said. "In the end, it could provide justice not just for Randy Hayes, but others who have been caught this way."
This should be very interesting to watch, as this will be the second time this year that the United States Supreme Court has dealt with a Second Amendment case. District of Columbia v. Heller was heard in March and a ruling is expected in June. However, a ruling in the Hayes case would not be expected until 2009.
Tim Inwood is the current Legislative Liaison and Past President of the Clinton County Farmers and Sportsmen Association, an Endowment Member of the NRA, Life Member of OGCA, and a volunteer for Buckeye Firearms Association.