Court: US gun ban doesn’t apply to city domestic abuse laws

Published: May. 24, 2017 at 10:32 PM CDT
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A Kansas man convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery under a city ordinance can legally carry a gun, an appeals court found in a ruling that could have broader implications for firearm sales.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling came in the case of Alexander Pauler, a Wichita man who was accused of violating a federal law that prohibits someone from owning a gun if they’ve been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence “under federal, state or tribal law.”

Prosecutors said Pauler couldn’t have a gun because he had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence under a Wichita ordinance. But a three-judge panel of the Denver-based appeals court on Tuesday unanimously found that the federal gun law doesn’t apply when the underlying domestic abuse violation is under a municipal ordinance.

Pauler’s attorney, David Freund, said it’s the first time that a federal appeals court has directly addressed that argument.

“It will really open up a class of individuals who are now able to lawfully exercise their Second Amendment rights” to bear arms, Freund said.

Prosecutors are evaluating the court’s ruling and no decision has been made on whether they will appeal to the full 10th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court, said Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas. Not many cases in Kansas would be affected by the ruling, he added.

However, at least one other case is already using the ruling in an effort to get a gun charge dismissed. Attorneys for Curtis Allen — one of three people facing federal charges in an alleged plot to bomb an apartment building full of Somali immigrants in western Kansas — filed a motion Wednesday seeking dismissal of a count related to possession of firearms after having previously been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic abuse conviction in a municipal court.

Freund said the bigger impact will be on people who try to buy a gun from a seller licensed by the U.S. government and are denied because a background check turns up of a municipal misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.

It was less clear, however, what the immediate impact of the ruling could be on the National Instant Background Check System, which is run by the FBI. Spokeswoman Bridget Patton declined to comment on the possible effect.

The case stems from a March 2014 altercation at a party in Wichita in which Pauler brandished his Glock pistol, racked the slide as if he were getting ready to fire the gun, then said, “If anyone’s tripping. I got the heater right here,” according to the ruling. Police pulled Pauler over within a half mile of the party, and found the firearm.

The government contended Pauler was prohibited from lawfully owning a gun because he had been convicted in 2009 of violating a Wichita domestic battery ordinance by punching his girlfriend in the face several times, according to court documents. Pauler pleaded guilty to the federal gun charge on the condition he could appeal over the issue of his prior domestic violence conviction. He was sentenced last year to five years of probation.

Rob Valente, chief officer of government affairs at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said the 10th Circuit’s ruling “undermines the work that has been done to close loopholes in federal firearm laws and protect victims of domestic violence and dating abuse.”

“Without these protections, it can be easier for someone convicted of domestic violence to access firearms, which may be used to threaten their partner,” Valente said.

The National Rifle Association did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the ruling.