Will SCOTUS Uphold Domestic Abusers’ Right to Own Guns?

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

It has now been a year since the Supreme Court issued its first major gun decision in over a decade. In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Court ruled that the constitutionality of gun control laws can no longer be determined solely by state interests. Instead, laws must have a historical analogy to the firearm regulations in place at the time of the Constitution’s framing. Under this new standard, firearms continue to evolve over time but their regulations cannot. 

Since Bruen, more than 450 lawsuits have been filed to challenge local, state, and federal gun laws. In May, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that prohibiting individuals under the age of 21 from purchasing firearms is unconstitutional. Three weeks later, a federal appeals court decided that those convicted of nonviolent felonies cannot legally be prevented from owning a firearm. 

But among the many lawsuits filed, few are as troubling as United States v. Rahimi. On February 2, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled it unconstitutional to prohibit people with domestic violence restraining orders to own firearms. In this decision, the court struck down a federal law under 18 U.S. Code Section 922, which barred anyone “subject to a court order” concerning violence to a domestic partner or child from bearing arms. 

According to the panel, which was composed of three Republican-appointed judges, 18 U.S.C. § 922 is not consistent with the “nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Since the plain text of the Second Amendment does not restrict individuals subject to court orders from purchasing firearms, the court found the gun control law to be unconstitutional. 

The Rahimi decision poses grave threats to victims of domestic violence. In the U.S., two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a firearm. Weak gun control laws also increase the number of violent crimes committed against women, and states with the loosest restrictions experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. 

Recognizing the link between gun violence and domestic violence, the Biden Administration has urged the Supreme Court to reassess the 5th Circuit’s ruling. “Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, [18 U.S.C. § 922] is constitutional,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision.”

On June 22, the Supreme Court met behind closed doors to decide whether they will accept the Justice Department’s request to review the Rahimi case during its next term. While the Court typically rejects follow-on cases after major opinions such as Bruen, supporters of gun control and anti-domestic violence groups have placed pressure on the justices. 

In a press release issued by the Battered Women’s Justice Project, twelve domestic violence victims advocacy groups and gun control organizations denounced the 5th Circuit’s decision. The groups jointly filed an amicus brief to overturn Rahimi, stating that “federal provisions disarming dangerous domestic abusers subject to a protection order are proven lifesaving laws.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation stands with victims of intimate partner violence and urges the Supreme Court to uphold sensible gun laws. While overturning Rahimi would be just the first step in pushing for tighter gun laws, it will send a critical message that the lives of domestic violence victims are more important than constitutional precedent. 

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