Supreme Court upholds law banning domestic abusers from having guns


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Washington — The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal law that prohibits people who are subject to domestic-violence restraining orders from having firearms, ruling that the measure does not violate the Second Amendment.

The court ruled 8-1 that a person who has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter.

“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. Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” Roberts wrote. “As applied to the facts of this case, [the law] fits comfortably within this tradition.”

U.S. v. Rahimi

The case, known as U.S. v. Rahimi, was the first involving the Second Amendment heard by the court following its landmark June 2022 ruling that expanded gun rights and set out a new legal framework for determining when firearms restrictions are constitutional. The test requires the government to show that a challenged gun law fits with the nation’s history and tradition of firearms regulation. It can satisfy that standard by putting forth laws that are analogous to the modern-day measure under scrutiny.

In the wake of that ruling nearly two years ago, a number of long-standing gun laws have been challenged in federal courts and, in some instances, invalidated. But confusion and division among lower courts over how to apply the Supreme Court’s so-called history-and-tradition test led to calls for the justices to clarify it.

The legal battle involving the protections for victims of domestic violence presented the high court with the first opportunity to address that fallout.

The case involves a law enacted by Congress 30 years ago, which prohibits people under domestic-violence restraining orders from having guns. A Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, was subject to such an order granted to a former girlfriend when he threatened another woman with a firearm and fired guns in public on five different occasions in December 2020 and January 2021.

After those incidents, police executing a search warrant found two guns at Rahimi’s residence. He was indicted under the 1994 law and pleaded guilty, but challenged the constitutionality of the firearms prohibition as outside constitutional bounds.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit tossed out Rahimi’s conviction and invalidated the gun law after applying the Supreme Court’s history-and-tradition test. The appeals court said the historical analogues put forth by prosecutors “fall short,” and the prohibition for people under domestic-violence restraining orders “falls outside the class of firearm regulations countenanced by the Second Amendment.”

The justices heard arguments in the case in November. Conservative members of the court suggested that people found to be a danger to society could be disarmed and largely agreed that Rahimi, in particular, should not have access to weapons.

The impacts of the decision won’t be felt immediately, but could factor into challenges involving other gun laws that are moving through the lower courts or awaiting action from the justices.

One of those cases involves the constitutionality of a law disarming people convicted of nonviolent felonies, and a second concerns a law prohibiting a person who is an unlawful drug user from having guns. Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, was found guilty by a Delaware jury of violating that law and two others related to his purchase and possession of a revolver in October 2018,  while he was addicted to crack cocaine. The president’s son can pursue an appeal of his conviction that challenges the constitutionality of the federal prohibition on drug users.

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