Supreme Court Upholds Law Disarming Domestic Abusers

The Supreme Court limited the scope of its previous landmark decision that significantly increased gun rights when it decided on Friday that the government could take a Texas man’s firearms if he was the subject of a domestic abuse order.

The 2022 ruling invalidated a New York statute that imposed stringent restrictions on carrying a pistol outside of one’s residence. Additionally, it established a new legal standard for evaluating gun control laws. However, because of its reliance on past practices, the standard has caused confusion as courts have struggled to apply it, leading to some judges overturning long-standing gun control laws.

The new case, United States v. Rahimi, probed the breadth of that new standard. Only Justice Clarence Thomas, the author of the majority opinion in the 2022 ruling, dissented. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. argued that Second Amendment rights had boundaries.

“Consistent with the Second Amendment, an individual may be prohibited from possessing firearms while the order is in effect when a restraining order contains a finding that the individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner,” the author wrote. “Since the country’s founding, laws pertaining to firearms have prohibited the mishandling of firearms by those who pose a threat of bodily harm to others.”

2019 saw the beginning of the case when Zackey Rahimi, a Texas drug dealer, beat his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her if she told anybody. As a result, she filed for a restraining order. The injunction forbade Mr. Rahimi from owning a handgun and suspended his handgun license.

Court documents state that Mr. Rahimi flagrantly disobeyed the ruling.

He was accused of assault with a deadly weapon after threatening another woman with a gun. Then he opened fire five times in public during a two-month period.

Upset by a social media post from someone to whom he had provided narcotics, for instance, he discharged an AR-15 weapon into his former client’s home. When a fast-food establishment denied a friend’s credit card, he shot three bullets into the air.

Following the shootings, a federal law that forbids the possession of firearms by those under domestic abuse orders was violated, leading to a search warrant being obtained for Mr. Rahimi’s residence, where weapons were found.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit first affirmed his conviction in a brief ruling, rejecting the argument that the law violated the Second Amendment in a footnote. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than six years in prison after a judge rejected his Second Amendment challenge to the law.

However, the appeals court took a different stance in 2023, one year after the Supreme Court ruled in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, holding that courts must use early American history as a guide when determining whether to impose restrictions on gun rights.

By applying that criterion, the appeals court dismissed a number of outdated statutes that the government had suggested could serve as analogs, claiming that they were insufficiently similar to the domestic abuse order statute.

Several of them “disarmed classes of people considered to be dangerous, specifically including those unwilling to take an oath of allegiance, slaves, and Native Americans,” Judge Cory T. Wilson wrote for the panel. That was distinct, he noted, from domestic violence orders, which make case-by-case decisions regarding a single individual’s dangerousness.

President Donald J. Trump’s appointee, Judge Wilson, stated that the government’s assertion that it may disarm noncompliant individuals “admits to no true limiting principle.”

“Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms?” he asked. “Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?”

Notably, Judge Wilson wrote, quoting the Bruen decision, was that “our ancestors would never have accepted” the law on domestic violence orders. Judge Wilson acknowledged that the federal law at issue in the case “embodies salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society,” but he said the approach required by that decision did not allow courts to weigh the benefits of the law against its burdens.

The Supreme Court, itself quite conservative, has reacted angrily to the Fifth Circuit’s aggressively conservative rulings on immigration, abortion pills, contacts with social media companies, and so-called ghost guns. While some of the Supreme Court’s decisions were tentative, the overall impression is one of an appeals court that is out of step with the justices. The Fifth Circuit is predominately made up of Republican appointees.


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