Supreme Court Upholds Law That Bans Domestic Abusers From Owning Guns

Gun Rights

Topline

People with domestic violence restraining orders against them will continue to be barred from possessing firearms, the Supreme Court ruled Friday, a major ruling indicating justices will uphold some restrictions on firearms despite a 2022 ruling that greatly expanded gun rights.

Key Facts

The court ruled 8-1 in U.S. v. Rahimi, a case challenging whether the federal statute that bars people with domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms violates the Second Amendment.

The challenge was brought based on the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in New York State & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down New York’s concealed carry law and made it harder to enact gun restrictions, ruling that any restrictions must be “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” and reflect historical laws governing guns.

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Americans can be “temporarily disarmed” under the Second Amendment if they’ve “been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another,” Chief Justice John Roberts ruled, writing for the court’s majority.

Firearm laws in the U.S. have historically “included regulations to stop individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” Roberts wrote, meaning the ban on domestic abusers possessing firearms is in line with historical tradition as Bruen requires.

While the right to keep and bear arms is one of the “fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” that right “is not unlimited,” Roberts wrote, arguing gun control laws have to be similar to historical laws—but not exactly the same as them—in order to be upheld under the Bruen ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the only one who dissented from the ruling, claiming that “not a single historical regulation justifies the statute” barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms, and arguing the court should have adopted a stricter interpretation for when gun laws are in line with historical precedent.

Crucial Quote

A review of historical laws on guns “confirm[s] what common sense suggests: When an individual poses a clear threat of physical violence to another, the threatening individual may be disarmed,” Roberts wrote for the court.

Tangent

U.S. v. Rahimi is one of several gun-related cases the court considered this term. Justices also weighed in on the legality of bump stocks, which are used to convert firearms into automatic weapons, in the case Garland v. Cargill, striking down a federal ban on the devices. The court also heard a case brought by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which questioned whether New York’s Department of Financial Services acted unlawfully by urging companies to cut ties with the NRA, warning of the “reputational risks” that could come from associating with the group after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Justices ruled in the NRA’s favor.

Key Background

U.S. v. Rahimi was brought by Zackey Rahimi, who was indicted for carrying out five shootings between December 2020 and January 2021. Rahimi was charged under the statute banning firearm possession by a domestic abuser, as he had such a restraining order against him. The defendant challenged his charges in court, arguing the statute was unconstitutional, and while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals initially ruled against him, it then reversed course and ruled in his favor based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Bruen case. The Bruen ruling has impacted a slew of rulings and gun regulations in the two years since the opinion came out, with U.S. v. Rahimi marking the first case in which justices have had to contend with the impact of their decisions. More than a dozen state and federal laws have been wholly or partially invalidated in court so far as a result of the court’s ruling, according to a 2023 study published in the Duke Law Journal, with 31 court rulings through Feb. 2023, primarily by Republican-appointed judges, finding gun laws have violated the Second Amendment.

What To Watch For

The court’s decision in the Rahimi case is likely to affect challenges to gun laws going forward, providing more clarity on whether or not they’re legal under the Bruen ruling. The court’s holding that Second Amendment rights are “not unlimited” will likely narrow when judges can strike down restrictions, as well as the court specifying that gun laws do not have to totally rigidly adhere to historical precedent in order to be lawful. In a concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that if the court had taken the stricter approach Thomas pushed for, it could have “[made] it nearly impossible to sustain common-sense regulations necessary to our Nation’s safety and security.”

Surprising Fact

There’s a correlation between mass shootings and domestic violence, as a 2021 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology found shooters in 68.2% of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 either killed a partner or family member or had a history of domestic violence. Firearm use is also common in deadly domestic violence situations, with a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law finding 54.1% of domestic homicides—defined as being committed by family members or romantic partners—involve a firearm. The study found firearm use was associated with a 70.9% increase in there being additional victims in domestic homicides.

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