Supreme Court upholds gun ban on domestic abusers, defying its usual ideological split on Second Amendment rights

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that domestic abusers cannot have access to a firearm. (File photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 on Friday to uphold a ban on gun possession by domestic abusers – a ruling that came as a huge relief to victims’ advocates in Arizona and across the nation.

“When an individual poses a clear threat of physical violence to another, the threatening individual may be disarmed,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

The near-unanimous ruling to affirm limitations on Second Amendment rights defied the court’s usual ideological split. The sole dissent came from Justice Clarence Thomas, who had authored a 2022 ruling that vastly expanded gun rights on behalf of the conservative majority.

Abusers use firearms as “an intimidation tactic,” said Cynthia Rodriguez, an associate director at A New Leaf, an Arizona group that helps people affected by domestic violence. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to use them, but it’s a tool that’s used to show power against their victim.”

That, she said, makes it critical for courts to be able to take guns away from a violent partner.

Arizona saw 1,459 killings involving domestic violence from 2009 to 2022, three-quarters of them involving gun violence, according to a report from Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In 2020, 42 Arizonans were shot to death by an intimate partner, according to the National Violent Death Reporting System.

In 2019, Arizona ranked 11th for rates of femicide, according to the Violence Policy Center.

Arizona law authorizes courts to prevent those with a domestic violence protective order against them from either possessing or buying a gun if the judge believes the defendant poses a threat to their partner or others.

Gun ownership is widespread in Arizona, with at least one gun in 36% of households, according to research by the RAND Corporation. Access to firearms have consistently ranked as a top risk factor of intimate partner violence and reassault, according to a study of Arizona homicides published in the Journal of Family Violence.

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Thomas argued in Friday’s dissent that the government has no authority to strip a person’s Second Amendment rights “if he has never been accused or convicted of a crime.”

“The Court and Government do not point to a single historical law revoking a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on possible interpersonal violence,” he wrote.

Friday’s case originated in Texas, where a state court had issued a restraining order against a man named Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer who had violently assaulted his partner in a parking lot, then shot at a witness.

In February 2020, a judge granted Rahimi’s partner a restraining order that barred him from possession of a gun, suspending his handgun license and warning that violating the order could be a federal felony. The judge agreed that he had “committed family violence” and that such violence was “likely to occur again in the future.”

Rahimi, according to court records, repeatedly violated that order, taking part in five shootings over two months.

He was indicted under a federal law that prohibits anyone subject to a domestic violence court order from possessing a gun. The federal trial court rejected his argument that the law violated his Second Amendment rights, and Rahimi eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 73 months in prison.

The conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court, finding that Rahimi was “hardly a model citizen,” but that barring him from possession of a gun violated his Second Amendment rights.

Women’s advocates see the federal gun ban on domestic abusers as a critical tool.

“We’ve seen a dramatic, measurable, proven reduction in the homicide rate for domestic violence survivors. The reality is that without this law, survivors will have one less tool available to them to decide how they can protect themselves and their family,” said Sabrina Talukder, the director of the Women’s Initiative at Center for American Progress.

Laws that restrict access to firearms by people who have committed domestic violence led to a 13% drop in killings among intimate partners, according to a 2018 study published in American Journal of Epidemiology.

Talukder said “this decision should evoke a collective sigh of relief,” but worries about the future.

“If the constitutionality of a sensible and effective law like this is up for grabs with the Supreme Court, it is terrifying to think what other gun safety laws are up for grabs in the future,” she said.

News Digital Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Sahara Sajjadi expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Sajjadi has worked as a graduate assistant at The Reynolds Center, writing about topics pertaining to the business world. She is also a recipient of the White House Correspondents Association scholarship award.