PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Joseph Kelly was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge about 20 years ago, but today he works as an advocate to help victims and offenders.
Last year, News 3 shared his story, where he told us he was in a toxic relationship that was violent between both people.
Kelly said was stunned to learn that his charge from two decades ago prevents him from ever buying a gun.
Back in 2021, he wanted to buy a gun for protection.
“I live in Portsmouth, and I can hear gunfire every night out of my window,” Kelly said.
He was told no because of the 20-year-old charge on his record.
Kelly said his attorney at the time told him to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and it would be off his record in three years. Now he's learned this is not the case.
According to Kelly, when he was filling out state and federal paperwork for the gun, he checked 'no' when asked if he was convicted of domestic violence because he thought it was off his record — but it wasn't.
He was first told by the gun shop owner that he was not allowed to buy the gun and he lost $200 of his $1,000 deposit. Months later, he said he was notified by the Virginia State Police that he was being charged for filing false paperwork on his gun application.
Del. Tim Anderson is a lawyer and gun shop owner. He said he sees issues like this all the time.
According to Anderson, many people convicted of domestic violence don’t realize they can never legally own a gun ever again.
He said making a false statement on federal firearms applications is a felony — and that he sees about 10 clients a month reporting similar issues.
“You're never advised at the criminal proceeding that you've lost your gun rights for life,” Anderson said.
“We're talking 21 years later, and I go apply for a gun and now I’m being charged with falsifying documents and looking at five years in jail because it’s a felony charge,” Kelly said.
Kelly and Anderson both feel that the law is way too strict. They believe a lifetime ban for a misdemeanor charge from decades ago is over the top.
But some domestic violence advocates disagree.
“If you're convicted of domestic violence, I think a handgun doesn't belong in your hands,” said Maureen Johnakin, a victim advocacy manager with the YWCA.
Johnakin pointed to information from the Gifford Law Center, a group that promotes gun control. According to our website, one study found that when an abusive partner has access to a gun, a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed.
She also said that if a person wants to have a handgun, they should petition their governor or a higher authority to get the law changed.
And that’s what Kelly would like to do change the law. He thinks there should be some kind of time limit for certain offenders.
“I don't disagree with the fact that a person could not bear a firearm if they've been convicted of a domestic violence case, but how long do you expect to keep that over their head?" Kelly asked.
Anderson thinks the decision should be made by a judge on a case-by-case basis.
“Somebody who is wrestling with their spouse about an inappropriate text message that happened one time 20 years ago should probably be able to ask to have their gun rights back, but somebody that abducts their spouse at gunpoint and drives them across state lines and terrorizes them, maybe not,” Anderson said.
“I’m one of the biggest activists around here for domestic violence with the healing of both males and females to remove themselves out of those situations and move forward,” Kelly said.
Kelly has court on Friday for the new charge.
He hopes the judge takes his domestic violence advocacy work into consideration and wants more people to be aware of this.