Supreme Court

Supreme Court upholds law that bars domestic abusers from having firearms

The justices ruled 8-1 Friday in favor of a 1994 ban on firearms for people under restraining orders to stay away from their spouses or partners.

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The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal law that prohibits people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms.

In an 8-1 decision, the justices ruled that when an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, that individual may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment. The decision in favor of a 1994 law reversed a ruling from the federal appeals court in New Orleans that had struck it down.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explained: "Since the founding, our nation's firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms. As applied to the facts of this case, Section 922(g)(8) fits comfortably within this tradition."

Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissent.

The case involves a Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, who was accused of hitting his girlfriend during an argument in a parking lot and later threatening to shoot her if she told anyone about the assault. The girlfriend obtained a protective order against him in Tarrant County in February 2020.

Eleven months later, Rahimi was a suspect in shootings when police searched his apartment and found guns. He eventually pleaded guilty to violating federal law. The federal appeals court in New Orleans overturned that conviction when it struck down the law following the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision in June 2022. That high court ruling not only expanded Americans’ gun rights under the Constitution but also changed the way courts are supposed to evaluate restrictions on firearms.

An Arlington man was at the center of a Supreme Court ruling Friday upholding a federal law. The law is meant to protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hand of people under domestic violence restraining orders. It was an 8-1 ruling in favor of defending the law.  

The Biden Administration appealed.

During oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Elena Kagan noted that “there seems to be a fair bit of division and a fair bit of confusion about what Bruen means and what Bruen requires in the lower courts.” That's because Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion, tossed out the balancing test judges had long used to decide whether gun laws were constitutional. Rather than consider whether a law enhances public safety, judges should only weigh whether it fits into the nation’s history of gun regulation, Thomas wrote for the six conservative justices on the nine-member court.

The Bruen decision has resulted in lower court rulings striking down more than a dozen laws. Those include age restrictions; bans on homemade ghost guns, which don’t have serial numbers; and prohibitions on gun ownership for people convicted of nonviolent felonies or using illegal drugs.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, defending the domestic violence law, argued that the prohibition fits within a long tradition of disarming people who are considered dangers to society and urged the justices to use this case to correct lower courts’ “profound misreading” of the decision.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh voiced concern that a ruling for Rahimi could also jeopardize the background check system that the Democratic administration said has stopped more than 75,000 gun sales in the past 25 years based on domestic violence protective orders.

Rahimi remains jailed in Tarrant County, Texas, where he faces other criminal charges. Following the Supreme Court's decision Friday, Rahimi's lawyer, Matthew Wright, told NBC News that his client had “no comment at this time."

In a letter Rahimi wrote from jail last summer after the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case, Rahimi said he would “stay away from all firearms and weapons” once he’s released. The New York Times first reported the existence of the letter.

Guns were used in 57% of killings of spouses, intimate partners, children or relatives in 2020, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seventy women a month, on average, are shot and killed by intimate partners, according to the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

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