Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Domestic Abusers, Reinforces Federal Regulations

Featured & Cover  Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Domestic Abusers Reinforces Federal Regulations

The Supreme Court upheld a federal law on Friday that prevents domestic abusers from owning guns, dismissing an argument from gun rights advocates that the law infringes on the Second Amendment. The 8-1 decision addressed one of the most scrutinized cases, narrowing the impact of a significant ruling from two years ago that led to numerous challenges against various gun laws nationwide.

This decision, which united most conservative and liberal justices, is likely to support similar federal gun regulations that have been contested since the Supreme Court’s substantial expansion of gun rights in 2022, particularly in cases where the defendant poses a danger. The 2022 ruling had created confusion among lower court judges dealing with Second Amendment cases.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, stated that the court found it straightforward to agree that individuals who pose a threat can be denied access to firearms. “Our tradition of firearm regulation allows the government to disarm individuals who present a credible threat to the physical safety of others,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts countered the notion that the court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen had forced lower courts to overturn any gun law lacking a historical precedent. He noted that some lower courts had “misunderstood the methodology of our recent Second Amendment cases.”

“The court’s ruling today leaves intact a specific federal criminal prohibition on gun possession by those subject to domestic violence-related restraining orders,” stated Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. However, he cautioned, “there are dozens of other federal and state gun regulations that have been challenged since the court’s 2022 ruling in the Bruen case. The harder cases, like whether Congress can prohibit all felons, or all drug offenders, from possessing firearms, are still to come.”

Several such cases are pending at the Supreme Court and may be addressed soon. Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority opinion in Bruen, dissented alone on Friday. “The court and government do not point to a single historical law revoking a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on possible interpersonal violence,” Thomas wrote, warning that the decision risks infringing on broader Second Amendment rights.

The case involved a 1994 law that prohibits individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns. Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man, was convicted under this law following a series of shootings, including an incident where he fired into the air at a Whataburger after a friend’s credit card was declined.

Rahimi’s attorneys argued that the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision invalidated the law on domestic violence orders, as the founding generation did not restrict gun possession for such reasons. The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals supported this view, finding the gun ban for individuals in domestic disputes to be historically unprecedented.

However, the Biden administration and domestic violence advocacy groups highlighted historical laws that prevented dangerous individuals from owning guns, suggesting such regulations could meet the court’s historical test. Victim advocacy groups pointed out that women subjected to domestic abuse are five times more likely to be killed if a gun is present in the home.

President Joe Biden praised the ruling, stating, “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.” Douglas Letter, chief legal officer of the gun control group Brady, called the decision an “important victory for gun violence and domestic violence prevention.”

Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, downplayed the ruling’s significance. “The Supreme Court’s narrow opinion offers no endorsement of red flag laws or of the dozens of other unconstitutional laws that the NRA is challenging across the country that burden the right of peaceable Americans to keep and bear arms,” Kozuch said, emphasizing that the ruling only disarmed individuals deemed dangerous after judicial review.

During oral arguments in November, a majority of justices seemed inclined to uphold the law but suggested they might do so narrowly, given that related legal challenges, including whether non-violent felons can be barred from gun ownership, are queued for the court’s review. One such prohibition concerns President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who was convicted of violating a law that bans gun possession by users of controlled substances. Hunter Biden is expected to appeal.

By upholding the law, the decision favored prosecutors in this matter but did not address the broader issue of whether other federal gun prohibitions would stand. Last year, the 5th Circuit ruled that the prohibition on drug users was unconstitutional.

Gun control advocates and domestic violence victims groups welcomed the ruling. “This is a huge victory for survivors and it WILL save lives,” March for Our Lives stated on social media. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, argued the case shouldn’t have been considered by the Supreme Court, claiming it shows the extremity of the current court.

Research cited by advocates indicates the risk of homicide increases by 500% if a gun is present in a domestic violence scenario. Amy Sánchez, CEO of the Battered Women’s Justice Project, expressed relief, stating that upholding the firearm restriction ensures protective measures remain effective and survivors are not at greater risk.

Ruth Glenn, president of Survivor Justice Action, commented that the ruling highlights ongoing work needed to strengthen and enforce protection orders. “We must vote. From my perspective and the perspective of this organization, elections matter. The survivors block is strong,” Glenn said, stressing the importance of political engagement.

Despite the ruling, advocates noted potential future challenges in the post-Bruen landscape. Nel-Sylvia Guzman, deputy director of Safe Sisters Circle, remarked that proponents of gun rights view the Bruen decision as a blanket permission to remove any restrictions on gun ownership.

Justice Samuel Alito was absent for the second day in a row as the Supreme Court issued opinions. The court has not addressed inquiries about his absence.

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