Supreme Court upholds gun ban for domestic abusers

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Supreme Court gun ban
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington is seen June 17, 2024. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Supreme Court June 21 upheld a federal ban on the possession of firearms by domestic abusers, rejecting an argument that the ban violated the Second Amendment.

In an 8-1 ruling, with Justice Clarence Thomas as the only dissenter, the high court held that “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.”

Susan Liebell, a professor of political science at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, told OSV News, “This is not a surprise ruling. This outcome was expected.”

Although eight of the justices joined the majority, Liebell noted their rationales varied, as several justices filed concurring opinions with differences even among those on the court’s perceived ideological wings.

Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that restricting individuals subject to a domestic violence restraining order from owning firearms does not violate the Second Amendment, and is consistent with the government’s lawful regulation of such weapons.

“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,” he wrote. “Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms.”

Roberts argued that the historical record as well as law “confirm what common sense suggests: When an individual poses a clear threat of physical violence to another, the threatening individual may be disarmed.”

Concurring opinions highlighting limits

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in a concurring opinion that “despite its unqualified text, the Second Amendment is not absolute. It codified a pre-existing right, and pre-existing limits on that right are part and parcel of it.”

In the lone dissenting opinion, Thomas argued that the government did not demonstrate a historical regulation that is “relevantly similar” to the ban in question, and argued that states can use criminal prosecution as a means to disarm dangerous individuals.

United States v. Rahimi

In the case, United States v. Rahimi, the court considered a federal law enacted in 1994 that prohibits those subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. The case concerned Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who was placed under a restraining order after assaulting his girlfriend in 2019 and threatening to shoot her. Rahimi later took part in other crimes, including his involvement in five shootings, after which authorities searched his home and charged him with violating that federal ban.

A U.S. flag-themed handgun is displayed for sale at the Des Moines Fairgrounds Gun Show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines March 11, 2023. (OSV News photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

But after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down part of New York’s handgun-licensing law, an appeals court threw out Rahimi’s conviction, arguing Rahimi still had the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment per that case. But the Supreme Court rejected that argument, finding that the ban does not run contrary to the Second Amendment.

Rahimi’s response

When the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case in November, The New York Times reported, Rahimi wrote a handwritten letter from jail apologizing for going down “a wrong path” and vowing he would no longer carry a gun.

“I will make sure for sure this time that when I finish my time being incarcerated to stay the faithful, righteous person I am this day,” Rahimi, wrote, adding he will seek “to stay away from all firearms and weapons, and to never be away from my family again.”

Supreme Court strikes down bump stock ban

In a separate guns case, the Supreme Court struck down a Trump-era federal ban on bump stocks June 14, finding the Trump administration exceeded its authority in issuing the ban without congressional authorization.

The U.S. bishops have called on congressional lawmakers to pass new legislation to combat gun violence, stating their support for a federal assault weapons ban similar to one Congress allowed to expire in 2004. They also support limitations on civilian access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. The same expired crime bill previously banned ownership of magazines with capacity for more than 10 rounds. Other gun regulation measures the bishops support include universal background checks for all gun purchases.

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.