Determining Eligibility for Return of Guns

Lately I have received a number of questions relating to whether it is appropriate to return guns following a temporary firearms disqualification. The issue seems to arise most commonly when a domestic violence restraining order (“DVPO”) is issued under Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes, which requires the surrender of guns by a defendant in certain circumstances and allows the defendant to seek return of the guns following the expiration of the order and final disposition of any related criminal charges. See G.S. 50B-3.1.

The issue of returning guns could pop up in other circumstances involving the seizure or surrender of guns. An interplay of state and federal law determines whether a person is disqualified from possessing firearms, temporarily or permanently, and some of the wrinkles are counterintuitive. This post examines some of the most common grounds for disqualification and discusses some limits of state authority in this area. It’s long, but I hope readers find it useful.

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Vinson, Voisine, and Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence

The United States Supreme Court recently decided a case about what counts as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” for purposes of the federal statute prohibiting individuals who have been convicted of such crimes from possessing firearms. I’ve had several questions about whether the ruling affects last year’s Fourth Circuit decision holding that North Carolina assaults generally don’t qualify as “misdemeanor crime[s] of domestic violence.” For the reasons set out below, I don’t think the Supreme Court case clearly overrules the Fourth Circuit’s decision.

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Fourth Circuit: North Carolina Assaults Don’t Count as “Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence” for Purposes of Firearm Prohibition

It is a federal crime for a person who has been convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess a gun. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). A “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” means a misdemeanor that “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon,” and that is committed by a person with one of several specified relationships to the victim. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33). Late last year, the Fourth Circuit ruled that North Carolina misdemeanor assault convictions generally don’t satisfy that definition.

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