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Supreme Court upholds prohibitions on guns for domestic violence offenders

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld federal prohibitions on the possession of firearms for those who are subjected to domestic violence restraining orders. “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,” Chief […]

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld federal prohibitions on the possession of firearms for those who are subjected to domestic violence restraining orders.

“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 8-1 decision.

The decision marks the high court’s first major Second Amendment decision since its landmark ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which held that courts must look at whether a gun law is consistent with America’s “history and tradition” of firearm regulation. The test became a point of contention for some lower court judges who said it was difficult to apply, in part due to an array of different interpretations of the test that have been applied since 2022.


Zackey Rahimi (Tarrant County Texas).

The case known as Rahimi v. U.S. involved plaintiff Zackey Rahimi, who previously pleaded guilty to possessing firearms while under a civil protective order that banned him from harassing, stalking, or threatening his ex-girlfriend and their child and also banned him from having guns. Rahimi remains in jail as he faces separate gun charges, including for his participation in a string of five different shootings between December 2020 and January 2021.

Separate from his state criminal charges, a grand jury indicted Rahimi on charges of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), a law that bans someone under such an order from having a gun, which carries a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Rahimi had said that the law violated the Second Amendment.

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Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in favor of Rahimi over his bid to challenge the federal statute surrounding gun ownership for those under a civil domestic violence restraining order. The 5th Circuit ultimately found the federal statute was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment and the Bruen precedent.

The appeals court’s decision was met with strong opposition from the Biden administration, prompting Attorney General Merrick Garland to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Biden administration argued that the law is necessary to protect victims of domestic violence, citing statistics that show a significant proportion of domestic homicides involve firearms.

In Bruen, the court established that firearms regulations must align with the nation’s “historical tradition.” This precedent was set when the justices, in a 6-3 decision written in 2022 by Justice Clarence Thomas, overturned New York’s handgun licensing requirements.

The Rahimi case ultimately posed a significant challenge for the Supreme Court’s delicate balancing act between adhering to Second Amendment rights and upholding the rule of law.

During the oral arguments, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar emphasized the risks posed by allowing people deemed dangerous to possess guns. She argued that those under restraining orders fall into a category of “not responsible citizens” who historically have been subject to disarmament for public safety reasons.

Roberts and other justices questioned the appropriate legal test to balance the Second Amendment rights with public safety concerns. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court’s majority in Bruen, highlighted that the Second Amendment permits various gun regulations, including the disarmament of those who pose a danger to society.

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The outcome of Rahimi will likely provide some clarity on how the historical framework established in Bruen applies to modern gun control measures, though legal experts have suggested the decision is unlikely to redesign the two-year-old Second Amendment test.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden, was found guilty by a jury this month for violating a subcomponent of § 922(g), which prohibits people who are under the influence of illicit drugs or have been addicted to such substances from owning a firearm. The jury convicted the younger Biden on Tuesday of lying on a federal form to purchase a gun by asserting he was not a drug user, lying to a federally licensed firearm dealer, and illegally owning the gun for 11 days.

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As Hunter Biden’s attorneys have vowed to appeal the conviction, the 5th Circuit recently found that Section 922(g)(3), which punishes anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance,” is unconstitutional under the Bruen framework. The younger Biden’s case could take longer to reach the high court as his appeals process has yet to begin, but the similarities behind another, similar case that is further along in the process could serve as a vehicle for his bid to challenge the law under which he was convicted.

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