Supreme Court upholds law banning domestic abusers from owning guns (2024)

The decision showed that a conservative court which has expanded gun rights also sees areas for limitations.

Maureen Groppe,Bart JansenUSA TODAY

WASHINGTON − The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a law banning domestic abusers from owning guns, showing that a conservative court that has expanded gun rights also sees areas for limitations.

"Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 8-1 majority in a decision that faulted some courts for misunderstanding the court's recent moves backing gun rights.

But Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone dissenter Friday and author of one of the past key gun rights decisions, said there isn't a "single historical regulation" that justifies the ban.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the majority but quibbled with analyzing statutes based on how they would have been viewed historically. She said a historical perspective on the Second Amendment would depend on the historians who are consulted.

'I could go on...But I won't'

“Who is protected by the Second Amendment, from a historical perspective?” Jackson wrote “I could go on – as others have. But I won’t.”

The decision indicates the court is likely to be more flexible in applying the historical test it set in 2022 but doesn’t foreshadow how that test will be applied to other restrictions such as prohibiting non-violent felons from having guns or banning high-capacity magazines, according to Joseph Blocher, co-director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University School of Law.

A narrow win for the government

“I think the Supreme Court is probably going to have to take more cases going forward to resolve those issues,” Blocher said. “This is a win for the government, but in some respects, it's about the narrowest win that the government could have.”

In fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion that the decision leaves open the question of whether the ban on guns for those subject to a domestic violence restraining order could be challenged by someone with different circ*mstances.

The case centered on a Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, who was involved in five shootings between 2020 and 2021. Rahimi pleaded guilty to the federal crime of possessing guns while subject to a restraining order, but an appeals court threw out his conviction.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on the court’s blockbuster 2022 decision, NYSRPA v. Bruen, striking downa New York law thatrequiredstateresidentsto have"proper cause" to carry a handgun.

In that 6-3 opinion, the court ruled that gun regulations must be "consistent with this nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation" to survive court challenges.

The Supreme Court said Friday the appeals court was wrongly looking for a "historical twin" to the regulation, rather than a "historical analogue."

Some courts, Roberts wrote, "have misunderstood the methodology of our recent Second Amendment cases."

"These precedents were not meant to suggest a law trapped in amber," Roberts wrote. "Holding otherwise would be as mistaken as applying the protections of the right only to muskets and sabers."

During the court’s discussion of Rahimi’s case in November, the question arose of what to do about a situation, such as domestic violence, in which there was essentially no law on the books when the Second Amendment was enacted. Much of the discussion focused on the idea that even if the framers didn't ban domestic abusers from owning guns, there was historical precedent for banning guns from people who were considered dangerous.

Thomas, in his dissent, accused the other justices of “mixing and matching historical laws.” He called that strategy a “regulatory blank check” to allow the government to disarm its citizens.

“That means the Government need only find a historical law with a comparable justification to validate modern disarmament regimes,” Thomas wrote. “As a result, historical laws fining certain behavior could justify completely disarming a person for the same behavior.”

'Hardly a model citizen'

While the appeals court had acknowledged Rahimi was "hardly a model citizen,” it ruled the law prohibiting him from owning a gun is an "outlier that our ancestors would never have accepted."

Underscoring the significance of the case, hundreds of gun safety and domestic violence prevention advocates had rallied outside the Supreme Court ahead of the November oral arguments, holding signs that read "Moms demand action" or "students demand action" on gun control.

Ashley Lantz, executive director of Brady PAC, said two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a gun.

“Thousands of women and other victims of domestic violence can breathe a sigh of relief today as the Court correctly ruled that their abusers cannot own firearms,” Lantz said in a statement Friday.

President Joe Biden said no one who has been abused should have to worry about their abuser getting a gun.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the court maintained a "commonsense prohibition" consistent with the Second Amendment to protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers.

Even Second Amendment rights groups acknowledged that Rahimi probably should not have access to guns. In 2019, Rahimipulled out a gun and fired at a passerbywho witnessed him dragging his girlfriend through a parking lot. Months later, after getting into an accident, he repeatedly shot at the other driver. In 2021, he fired several times after a friend's credit card was declined at a Whataburger burger joint.

But those groups, including the National Rifle Association, argued that Rahimi should have his guns confiscated only after he has been convicted of the crimes. The federal law that bars people from owning guns because of a restraining order, those groups say, is inconsistent with the way courts have historically viewed punishment.

“Zackey Rahimi is a dangerous individual already behind bars for real crimes – and that’s where he should be," said Erich Pratt, senior vice president for Gun Owners of America. "However, this ruling will disarm others who have never actually committed any domestic violence. So for those people to lose their enumerated rights, even for a temporary period of time, is a disgrace. If someone is dangerous, charge them with a real crime, convict them in a court of law, and get them out of society.”

But the student-led group March for Our Lives called Friday's decision the “bare minimum” and said it doesn’t make up for past decisions include the court's striking down last week a Trump-era federal ban on bump stocks, a device that lets a shooter fire a semi-automatic riflemore like a machine gun.

“Make no mistake: While the Supreme Court got it right today, it has already done far-reaching damage to settled constitutional jurisprudence via Bruen," said Makennan McBryde, Legal Associate at March For Our Lives, "and we remain concerned with its willingness to endanger lives to pursue a partisan agenda."

The court, in recent years, has tended to side with gun rights advocates, including in major decisions in2008,2010and the 2022 decision striking down New York’s gun licensing law.

The case is United States v. Rahimi.

Supreme Court upholds law banning domestic abusers from owning guns (2024)


Supreme Court upholds law banning domestic abusers from owning guns? ›

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the government can take guns away from people subject to restraining orders for domestic violence, limiting the sweep of a blockbuster decision in 2022 that had vastly expanded Second Amendment rights.

What did the 2008 Supreme Court case say about gun ownership? ›

It held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms and that the city's total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated that right. See id., at 395, 399–401.

Which Supreme Court case upheld an individual's right to have a gun? ›

There have been two landmark Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment in recent years: District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago.

What did the Supreme Court determine in 2008 regarding gun ownership rights? ›

Heller, case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2008, held (5–4) that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.

What has the Supreme Court ruled on a citizen's right to own or carry a gun for personal protection? ›

The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

What did the Supreme Court rule on gun ownership? ›

Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms for certain purposes, including at least self-defense in the home. Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Court determined that the right to bear arms is a “fundamental” right.

Does gun control violate the 2nd Amendment? ›

Since the Supreme Court ruled that citizens may keep a handgun at home for self-defense in District of Columbia v. Heller, courts across the country have reaffirmed that gun safety laws are constitutional and not in conflict with Second Amendment rights.

Does the Second Amendment give you the right to own a gun? ›

The Court meticulously detailed the history and tradition of the Second Amendment at the time of the Constitutional Convention and proclaimed that the Second Amendment established an individual right for U.S. citizens to possess firearms.

What arms are not protected by the 2nd Amendment? ›

at 627-28. In short, the Supreme Court did its job by announcing that the Second Amendment does not protect assault weapons—precisely because they are meant for the battlefield and are not “in common use at the time for lawful purposes.” Id. at 624-25, 627-28; accord Kolbe, 849 F.

What does the right to bear arms mean? ›

The right to bear arms generally refers to a person's right to possess weapons. Over the years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution's right to bear arms as an individual self-defense right, making it very difficult for Congress to regulate guns.

What is the Supreme Court case on common use firearms? ›

at 2143 (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 627) (emphasis added). The Court held that as between (a) arms in common use and (b) arms that are highly unusual, under the historical tradition only the former are protected by the Second Amendment.

What is the freedom of gun ownership? ›

The Founding Fathers wisely included the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which guarantees, "The right of the people to bear and keep arms shall not be infringed." This fundamental freedom protects the rights of gun owners and restrains the presence of criminal activity and tyranny.

Which Supreme Court case upheld the National firearms Act? ›

United States v. Miller :: 307 U.S. 174 (1939) :: Justia US Supreme Court Center.

What Supreme Court case expanded the rights of those who carry guns? ›

This all started with District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. That case was the very first time that the Supreme Court recognized an individual right to own a gun. And in that case, no test was set up, so lower courts didn't know how to determine whether a gun law violates the Second Amendment.

Do you think that people have the right to own a gun? ›

While the American public backs the view that gun ownership is a constitutional right, Americans favor having legal restrictions on it. In the same poll, 49% favor stricter gun laws than exist now and 38% would like to see gun laws remain as they are. Just 11% advocate gun laws that are less strict.

Are all gun laws unconstitutional? ›

The Second Amendment was written to protect Americans' right to establish militias to defend themselves, not to allow individual Americans to own guns; consequently, gun-control measures do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

What did the Supreme Court decide on the NY gun case? ›

Opinion of the Court. The case's decision was released on June 23, 2022. In a 6–3 opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that the state law was unconstitutional as it infringed on the right to keep and bear arms, reversing the Second Circuit's decision and remanding the case for further review.

What happened in the Engblom v. Carey case? ›

The panel determined that the correctional officers were tenants (having such general control) and remanded the case back to the district court. However, the lower court ultimately ruled in the defendants' favor based on qualified immunity.

What did the Supreme Court say about the NRA? ›

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the National Rifle Association's allegations that New York state officials coerced private companies to blacklist the group because of its political views stated a claim under the First Amendment, reversing a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ...

What was the DC V Heller case about? ›

Summary. District of Columbia v. Heller was the first time in several decades that the Supreme Court interpreted the words of the Second Amendment. The case involved a ban on handguns in the home.

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