BREAKING: High Court Says Domestic Abusers Can’t Carry A Firearm (Media Share)

Media Share from Law 360 on June 21, 2024

“Native women are more likely to be victimized by domestic violence than any other population in the United States. Today, in United States v. Rahimi, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered an important victory for Indian Country in upholding 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), a federal statute that provides Native victims of domestic violence with critical protections.  Specifically, when a Native woman goes to her Tribal Court and secures a protective order, § 922(g)(8) makes it illegal for her abuser to access a firearm.  This is a statute that saves lives.  COLT applauds the Court’s common-sense, life-saving decision recognizing the importance and Constitutionality of the federal statute.”

Chairman Weatherwax

By Marco Poggio | June 21, 2024, 10:36 AM EDT 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal law banning firearm possession by people who are accused of committing domestic abuse, reversing a lower court ruling that had struck down the law as a violation of the Second Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts rejected Texas man Zackey Rahimi’s challenged to a federal law, Section 922(g)(8), Title 18 of the U.S. Code, banning gun possession by people who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. It’s the first Second Amendment case to reach the high court following its landmark 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen , which expanded the right to carry guns outside one’s home.

“In short, we have no trouble concluding that Section 922(g)(8) survives Rahimi’s facial challenge,” Justice Roberts wrote. “Our tradition of firearm regulation allows the government to disarm individuals who present a credible threat to the physical safety of others.”

Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter, arguing the law is unconstitutional because “not a single historical regulation justifies the statute at issue,” he wrote.

Rahimi was indicted in April 2021 after police found firearms and ammunition in his home while he was bound by a restraining order for knocking his girlfriend to the ground during a fight in a parking lot.

Using legal arguments that served as precursor to those embraced by the Supreme Court in Bruen, Rahimi moved to dismiss his indictment by saying the law was unconstitutional either under the existing two-step framework that balanced the constitutional rights of individuals to bear firearms and the government’s interests to regulate possession, or, more ambitiously, under a historical analysis of the regulation.

On June 3, 2021, however, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas shot down Rahimi’s attempt to escape prosecution, citing a 2020 ruling by the Fifth Circuit in United States v. McGinnis that had found the gun ban for domestic abusers constitutional. A year later, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district’s court ruling in an unsigned opinion.

But Rahimi got a big legal break 15 days later, when the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Bruen.

In the majority opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas axing New York state’s gun licensing regime, the high court replaced the government means-ends test, which had been used since the right of private citizens to carry guns in self-defense was recognized in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, with a new legal framework focusing on the history and tradition of gun regulations.

The ruling served as a tectonic shift in firearm jurisprudence, inviting myriad legal challenges to existing federal and state gun regulations across the country, and sowing confusion across lower courts about how exactly to implement the new guidance.

Riding that wave and bolstered by Bruen’s ruling, Rahimi renewed his challenge to the domestic abuser ban. This time, in February 2023, a Fifth Circuit panel embraced his arguments.

In a majority authored by U.S. Circuit Judge Cory T. Wilson, the Court of Appeals found that although Rahimi was “hardly a model citizen” — he was involved in five shootings in and around Arlington, Texas, after receiving a restraining order for assaulting his ex-girlfriend — Section 922(g)(8) “fails to pass constitutional muster.”

Federal prosecutors appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court in March 2023, arguing that, dating back to the Revolutionary War, the federal government had exercised power to disarm people deemed “dangerous, irresponsible, or otherwise unfit to possess arms,” and that the Second Amendment had never prevented states in the 19th century from enacting laws to keep firearms out of the hands of children, intoxicated people and vagrants.

In its certiorari petition, the government said the presence of a gun in a house with a domestic abuser increases the risk of homicide sixfold.

Data reported by law enforcement agencies across the country and compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that, in 2021, 34% of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. By comparison, about 6% of males murdered that year were victims of intimate partner homicide.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, an ongoing government survey that gathers national and state-level data on domestic violence in the United States, 20 people every minute are subjected to physical violence by an intimate partner across the country.

In its briefs, the government told the Supreme Court it needs to retain the power to disarm people it deems dangerous.

The Rahimi case immediately became a blockbuster, and one of the most closely watched in the current term. Since the petition for certiorari was filed, a total of 67 friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on either side of the dispute, a sign that the issue of disarming domestic abusers spilled well beyond the docket and touched a nerve in the public discourse.

Notable briefs include those of gun violence and domestic abuse prevention groups, large municipalities such as New York City, prosecutors and Second Amendment scholars that supported the U.S. government argument for restricting gun possession by people who have been found by courts to present a danger to intimate partners or children. Gun rights advocates and lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association, on the other hand, piled up in support of Rahimi.

While the parties geared up for the fight, challenges to other provisions of federal law prohibiting firearm access to groups such as unauthorized immigrants, people convicted of felonies, and drug users have continued to simmer in the lower courts.

Through their questioning during oral arguments in November, Supreme Court justices expressed reservations about the soundness of Fifth Circuit’s ruling, suggesting that the lower court misapplied the Bruen test when it said there were no comparable Founding Era gun regulations that could legally justify the existence of the current domestic abuser ban.

During the roughly 90-minute arguments, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar and the federal public defender representing Rahimi sparred over the concept of danger and touched on other groups that have been barred from possessing firearms in the modern era.

Prelogar argued that, in accordance with Second Amendment’s history and tradition, the government has the power to disarm people who, like Rahimi, are not “law-abiding and responsible.” She also argued that the fact that no analogous domestic violence-related law existed around the time the Second Amendment was enacted didn’t make the current law unconstitutional.

During the arguments, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson criticized the Bruen decision itself, saying its legal test has been applied to a whitewashed version of the Founding Era’s history of gun regulation by leaving out prohibitions for groups of people considered dangerous or disfavored at the time, including freed slaves and Native Americans.

The U.S. government was represented by Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar.

Rahimi was represented by James Matthew Wright of the Office of the Federal Public Defender.

The case is United States v. Zackey Rahimi, case number 22-915, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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