Supreme Court Upholds Law Banning Guns for Domestic Violence Offenders

Supreme Court Upholds Law Banning Guns for Domestic Violence Offenders Photo Source: Getty Images via

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal law that criminalizes firearm possession for individuals under domestic violence restraining orders. The 8-1 ruling marks a significant victory for President Joe Biden's administration and maintains critical protections for abuse victims, predominantly women.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, authored the majority opinion, overturning a lower court decision that had struck down the 1994 law as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The case was brought forth by Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man under a restraining order for assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to shoot her. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the law failed the Supreme Court's stringent test from a 2022 decision requiring gun regulations to align with the nation's historical firearm traditions.

Roberts, however, emphasized that historical firearm laws have consistently targeted individuals posing physical threats to others. "When a restraining order contains a finding that an individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner, that individual may—consistent with the Second Amendment—be banned from possessing firearms while the order is in effect," Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole dissenter, argued that the ruling lacked historical precedent. "Not a single historical regulation justifies the statute at issue," Thomas stated, warning that the decision jeopardizes broader Second Amendment rights.

The case centered on Rahimi, who was found guilty in 2021 of illegally possessing firearms while under a restraining order. Authorities discovered a pistol and rifle in his home during a search related to multiple shootings, including using an assault-type rifle against a drug customer.

Biden celebrated the ruling, highlighting its importance for public safety and protecting abuse victims. "No one who has been abused should have to worry about their abuser getting a gun," Biden said. "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."

Gun control advocates also praised the decision. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, criticized the 5th Circuit's judges who initially sided with Rahimi, asserting they had jeopardized domestic violence victims' safety.

This ruling underscores the Supreme Court's complex relationship with Second Amendment jurisprudence. While the court has expanded gun rights in landmark decisions, including the 2022 New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen case, Roberts clarified that modern gun restrictions need not have a direct historical equivalent to be valid.

Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pointed to difficulties lower courts face in applying the Bruen test, suggesting that blame lies with the Supreme Court’s guidance. "In my view, the blame may lie with us, not with them," Jackson wrote.

Public sentiment largely supports restrictions on firearm possession for those under domestic violence restraining orders. A May Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that 75% of registered voters, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, believe such individuals should not have access to guns.

Lawrence J. Tjan
Lawrence J. Tjan
Lawrence is an attorney with practical experience in corporate and general business legal matters, as well as law practice management. His litigation experience includes issues dealing with antitrust, bad faith and medical malpractice. His transactional experience includes buy-sell agreements, Reg D disclosures, investor subscription agreements, and stock option plans.
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