Gun Control Act - Domestic Violence Misdemeanants' Firearms Disabilities - Illinois Supreme Court Construes Federal Gun Control Act to Permit State Court to Remove Domestic Violence Misdemeanant's Federal Firearms Disability

Harvard Law Review, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Gun Control Act - Domestic Violence Misdemeanants' Firearms Disabilities - Illinois Supreme Court Construes Federal Gun Control Act to Permit State Court to Remove Domestic Violence Misdemeanant's Federal Firearms Disability


GUN CONTROL ACT--DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MISDEMEANANTS' FIREARMS DISABILITIES--ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT CONSTRUES FEDERAL GUN CONTROL ACT TO PERMIT STATE COURT TO REMOVE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MISDEMEANANT'S FEDERAL FIREARMS DISABILITY. -- Coram v. State, 996 N.E.2d 1057 (Ill. 2013).

The Supreme Court's 2008 determination in District of Columbia v. Heller (1) that the Second Amendment creates an "individual right to possess and carry weapons" (2) has rendered uncertain the constitutional limits of gun control measures. 0ne such measure, [section] 922(g)(9) of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (3) (GCA), was enacted as part of the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment (4) and criminalizes possession of "any firearm or ammunition" (5) by any person "convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." (6) Recently, in Coram v. State, (7) the Illinois Supreme Court declined to rule on [section] 922(g)(9)'s constitutionality as applied to a domestic violence misdemeanant ineligible for the GCA's statutory avenues of firearms rights restoration, (8) and instead read the GCA to permit a state court to remove a [section] 922(g)(9) disability. (9) The court avoided Second Amendment uncertainty but disregarded [section] 922(g)(9)'s goal of affording domestic violence victims nationally consistent protection. If this goal is to be realized post-Heller, however,

Coram suggests that Congress should attempt to preempt constitutional challenges by providing a federal path to rights restoration. In 1992, Jerry Coram pled guilty to a state misdemeanor offense of domestic battery, for which he served no jail time." Seventeen years later, he applied to the Illinois State Police (the Department) for a Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card. (11) Citing Coram's [section] 922(g)(9) disability and Illinois's FOID Card Act, (12) which permits the Department to deny a FOID card to an applicant who is "prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms ... by federal law," the Department denied his application. (13)

Coram sought review of the denial in state trial court. (14) The court examined a psychological report, found that Coram posed no threat, and directed the Department to issue Coram a FOID card. (15) The Department intervened and moved to vacate, arguing that Coram's [section] 922(g)(9) disability left the Department without authority to issue him a FOID card. (16) Coram argued that [section] 922(g)(9) violates the Second Amendment and moved to dismiss the Department's motion to vacate. (17)

The court denied the Department's motion to vacate, (18) finding [section] 922(g) (9) unconstitutional as applied to Coram because it imposed a perpetual firearms disability. (19) The GCA provides two avenues for relief from a [section] 922(g)(9) disability: First, [section] 925(c) permits the Attorney General to grant relief if "the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and ... the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest"; (20) however, Congress has withheld funding for processing [section] 925(c) relief applications since 1992. (21) Second, [section] 921(a)(33)(B)(ii) removes the effect of a domestic violence misdemeanor "if the conviction has been expunged or set aside, or [if the misdemeanor] is an offense for which the person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored." (22) Coram's conviction was ineligible for expungement under state law, (23) and he had not sought a pardon. (24) Further, Illinois does not revoke any civil rights pursuant to a conviction that does not result in incarceration, so Coram was ineligible for civil rights restoration. (25) Noting that the GCA therefore placed a greater burden on Coram than on presumably more dangerous offenders who had been incarcerated and were therefore eligible for civil rights restoration, the court found that Coram's ineligibility for relief was arbitrary. (26) The court thus declared [section] 922(g)(9) unconstitutional as applied and confirmed its order directing the Department to issue Coram a FOID card.

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Gun Control Act - Domestic Violence Misdemeanants' Firearms Disabilities - Illinois Supreme Court Construes Federal Gun Control Act to Permit State Court to Remove Domestic Violence Misdemeanant's Federal Firearms Disability
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