Domestic Violence Order Trumps Right to Bear Arms

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 06, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the Second Amendment right to bear arms has its limits, particularly with regard to a person under a domestic violence order.

Applying intermediate scrutiny, the Fourth Circuit upheld a federal law that prohibits the subject of a domestic violence order from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition. In the case, the defendant who challenged the law was bound by a domestic violence order stemming from a gun-related incident.

In 2009, police officers in West Virginia responded to a 911 dispatch involving shots being fired at the residence of Ronald Mark Chapman's ex-wife, where he had been living for approximately two months. Minutes before the 911 dispatch, Chapman's ex-wife had found him in the master bedroom with a .45 caliber handgun. Chapman informed her that he planned to kill himself.

As Chapman's ex-wife attempted to wrestle the handgun away from him, two shots were fired into the bedroom wall. Chapman then retrieved a shotgun from the closet, which Chapman's ex-wife also wrestled away from him. Chapman then turned to a .38 caliber revolver.

At this point, Chapman's ex-wife fled to a neighbor's residence across the street where she made the 911 call. After Chapman's ex-wife had fled her residence, Chapman fired a shot out of the master bedroom window in her direction.

After a 10-minute standoff at the scene, officers convinced Chapman to exit the residence. Upon entering the house to ensure that no one else was inside, the officers saw three firearms in plain view. Chapman's ex-wife then entered the residence and aided the officers in finding three more firearms and 991 rounds of ammunition.

Chapman, who was subject to a domestic violence order due to an incident in a different relationship, was subsequently indicted on one count of knowingly possessing six firearms and 991 cartridges of ammunition while simultaneously being subject to a domestic violence protective order.

Chapman moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the statute, as applied to him, violated his right to bear arms in his home for self-defense under the Second Amendment.

Relying on its reasoning in U.S. v. Staten, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the government satisfied the intermediate scrutiny standard by establishing a "reasonable fit" between the substantial governmental objective of reducing domestic gun violence and keeping firearms out of the hands of persons who are currently subject to a domestic violence order.

If you represent a client in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, or the Carolinas who is subject to a domestic violence order, warn your client that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold a felony conviction for possession of a firearm if he continues to keep guns or ammunition.

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