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Domestic violence misdemeanor stymies restoration of gun rights for Washington State residents

If you have a conviction in Washington for a domestic-violence misdemeanor, you may be able to have a court restore your rights under Washington law to possess firearms.  But federal authorities may not recognize the Washington court order, so you could be in a position where your possession of firearms does not violate Washington state law, but does violate federal law.

Before giving up hope of ever owning a gun again, take a close look at whether your conviction truly fits the federal definition of “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  The federal definition is much narrower than the definition appearing in Washington law.   To put things a little differently, an offense classified as a DV offense under Washington law may not be classified as a DV offense under federal law.  In that situation, if your Washington gun rights are restored there is no prohibition on your right to possess firearms.

For example, in order to qualify under federal law as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” an element of the crime must be the use of force or the threat to use force (such as an assault).  Thus, if your conviction is for violating a protection order, it does not prohibit your possession of firearms under federal law, because one can commit the offense without using force (by telephoning the protected person, for example).

The other critical difference between the Washington and federal laws on domestic violence is the nature of the relationship between the offender and the crime victim.  Again, the federal definition is much narrower.  Under federal law, an offense is categorized as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” if the offender and victim are related as spouses, parent and child, guardian and ward, cohabitants, or people who have  a child in common.  Under Washington law, the category includes people in a “dating relationship,” siblings, roommates, and others.  Thus, for example, a brother-against-brother assault is a DV offense under Washington law, but not under federal law.  The person convicted of a brother-against-brother misdemeanor assault will lose his gun rights under Washington law.  If obtains an order from a Washington court that restores his firearm rights, he will face no problem with federal authorities.

Unfortunately there is no good solution right now for the most typical case: a misdemeanor assault committed by one spouse against another.  In that case, a restoration of Washington rights will not be recognized by authorities as a restoration of federal rights.  Curiously, federal authorities will almost always recognize a restoration of Washington rights which were lost due to a felony conviction.  In this situation, a person convicted of a more serious offense has an advantage over someone convicted of a less serious offense.  Go figure!