Court upholds lifetime gun ban over misdemeanor domestic abuse conviction

A federal appellate court on Thursday upheld a ruling that stripped Second Amendment rights from an Ohio man long ago convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

The 2-1 panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal by a lower court in the case of Terry Lee Stimmel. The court rejected his argument that, under the law’s “reasonable fit” standard, a limited restriction rather than a continued ban on firearms was more appropriate.

“According to Stimmel, the fit cannot be reasonable where a lone domestic violence misdemeanor conviction is sufficient justification for disarming him, for all practical purposes, for life. We disagree,” Judge Richard Allen Griffin said in an opinion for the majority.

Court documents show that Stimmel in 1997 pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence under Ohio law after an altercation with his then-wife, which left her with a cut to her head. Afterward, a local court sentenced him to 180 days in jail, with all but one day suspended, and a $100 fine.

Yet, he said didn’t learn he was a prohibited buyer under federal law until he tried to buy a gun in 2002. The FBI rejected an appeal of his subsequent NICS denial, which prompted Stimmel, who has had a clean record since, to turn to the courts.

As part of his legal challenge to his gun prohibition, Stimmel argued low rates of recidivism on those with criminal convictions who had spent decades without committing another crime. While the argument was rejected by the majority, Judge Danny Julian Boggs voiced similar concerns in his dissenting opinion.

“Because the government has offered, at best, minimal evidence that a non-recidivist domestic violence misdemeanant presents a heightened risk of reoffending decades after his or her conviction, it has yet to justify what is, effectively, a lifetime ban on a fundamental constitutional right,” Boggs said.

Also of concern to Boggs was the aspect in Stimmel’s case that normal methods of setting aside his past crime — an expungement or civil rights restoration — were not allowed for domestic violence convictions under Ohio law, leaving him the unlikely avenue of a pardon from the governor. “Stimmel’s firearm-ownership ban is therefore effectively permanent,” Boggs said.

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