Supreme Court Examines Constitutionality of Firearm Ban for Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

People participate in a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court

In a pivotal case that could impact gun regulations, a majority of Supreme Court justices on Tuesday signaled a potential inclination to uphold a longstanding federal ban on firearm possession for individuals under domestic violence restraining orders. The case, U.S. v. Rahimi, is seen as a litmus test for the scope of Second Amendment rights, especially concerning those with histories of domestic violence.

Zackey Rahimi, a Texas resident with a prior conviction for drug possession and an indictment for illegal gun possession while under a restraining order from his girlfriend, challenged the ban on constitutional grounds, asserting that it lacked historical precedent. The federal appeals court sided with Rahimi, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s review.

The law in question requires state and federal courts to report restraining orders to the national criminal background check system, thereby preventing individuals subject to such orders from purchasing firearms. Since its implementation in 1998, more than 77,000 gun sales have been denied under this law.

As the case unfolded, the Court grappled with the balance between the Second Amendment and public safety. Firearms have played a significant role in intimate partner violence, with data indicating that women are five times more likely to die in domestic abuse situations involving guns, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar staunchly defended the law during oral arguments, asserting its alignment with a longstanding tradition of disarming individuals deemed dangerous or not law-abiding. She emphasized that the law aimed to protect women, the public, and law enforcement officers from harm, citing alarming statistics that armed domestic violence calls are the most perilous for police officers.

Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett appeared to express support for the law, emphasizing that the danger posed by individuals under restraining orders had long been a basis for firearm restrictions, even if a precise historical parallel was absent.

In contrast, the Court’s liberal justices criticized the application of the “history and tradition” test for gun restrictions and expressed concerns that the ban on guns for domestic abusers was even under scrutiny.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson questioned the selective consideration of history and tradition, while Justice Elena Kagan challenged Rahimi’s attorney, highlighting the potentially untenable implications of his argument.

Conservative justices voiced concerns about the law’s potential to infringe on the gun rights of non-violent individuals without sufficient due process. Justice Samuel Alito raised concerns about family court judges issuing restraining orders without proper investigation, while Justice Clarence Thomas worried about overly broad interpretations of “responsibility.”

Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concerns about defining “responsibility” and the subjective nature of the term. Prelogar argued that the standard should be based on “dangerousness” concerning firearm use.

The Court will vote on the case and is expected to release its decision by the end of June, with far-reaching implications for the balance between Second Amendment rights and public safety.

Chris Morris
Author: Chris Morris

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