Supreme Court upholds federal law banning domestic abusers from owning guns

Gun Rights

The Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision Friday upheld a federal law that disarms people under domestic violence restraining orders, ruling it complies with the court’s recent expansion of Second Amendment rights.

Under that two-year-old precedent, which found a right to bear arms outside the home for the first time, the court has prescribed a new test requiring gun control measures fit within the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, noted a tradition of disarming individuals found to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, rejecting a defendant’s challenge to the gun possession ban.

“Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” Roberts wrote. 

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Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, writing that “not a single historical regulation justifies that statute at issue.” 

“Yet, in the interest of ensuring the Government can regulate one subset of society, today’s decision puts at risk the Second Amendment rights of many more. I respectfully dissent,” Thomas wrote. 

The decision rules in favor of President Biden’s Justice Department, which appealed to the Supreme Court to defend the statute after a lower court deemed it unconstitutional under the new standard, throwing out a Texas man’s conviction. 

“No one who has been abused should have to worry about their abuser getting a gun. As a result of today’s ruling, survivors of domestic violence and their families will still be able to count on critical protections, just as they have for the past three decades,” Biden said in a statement after the opinion was released.

Zackey Rahimi, the man, had been placed under a restraining order after he dragged his girlfriend, with whom he has a child, into a parking lot and attempted to shoot a witness. Rahimi later participated in a series of five shootings, court filings show, and he was indicted on the gun charge after police found a rifle and a pistol while searching his home. 

The dispute marked the justices’ first plenary Second Amendment case since they established their new history-based test, known as the Bruen test.

Advocates on both sides of the gun control issue have closely followed Rahimi’s case to see how the justices might clarify their recent Second Amendment expansion or rein in lower courts that have in the two years since invalidated a dizzying array of firearms provisions

Many of those challenges have reached the Supreme Court but were held in limbo pending the resolution of Rahimi’s case. Among the stalled petitions include the Justice Department’s defense of the provision that Hunter Biden, the president’s son, was convicted under in his recent criminal trial. 

Six of the seven justices who joined Roberts in the majority Friday wrote or joined separate opinions discussing the Bruen test.  

Justice Neil Gorsuch forcefully defended it. Fellow conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett wrote solo opinions making observations about the history-based inquiry. 

The court’s three liberals, however, all raised how lower courts have expressed struggles in attempting to apply the Bruen test.

“In my view, the blame may lie with us, not with them,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, said she continues to think the Second Amendment test used by courts prior to Bruen remains “the right one,” but that no party had asked the court to overrule their new precedent. 

Nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress and 23 Democratic states attorneys general filed written briefs backing the Biden administration in defending the law. They were joined by advocacy groups that advocate for stronger gun restrictions, including March for our Lives, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety. 

Rahimi’s challenge was backed by the National Association for Gun Rights, the National Rifle Association, the Firearms Policy Coalition, other gun rights groups and the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. 

Updated at 11:56 a.m. EDT

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