DECIDING THE FUTURE FOR SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
The Supreme Court must overturn the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling and protect survivors of domestic abuse.
On November 7, 2023, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi. This case challenges current law, which prohibits an individual who is the subject of a qualifying domestic violence restraining order from possessing a firearm. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case will impact whether individuals subject to qualifying domestic violence restraining orders can be prohibited from possessing firearms.
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ABOUT UNITED STATES V. RAHIMI
Between December 2020 and January 2021, Zackey Rahimi was involved in five shootings in and around Arlington, TX. After these incidents, law enforcement officers got a warrant to search Rahimi’s home, where they found firearms. Rahimi, who was subject to a qualifying domestic violence restraining order, was prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms and was indicted for having done so. He then challenged the law that made his conduct criminal, arguing that the Second Amendment made the law unconstitutional.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had initially dismissed his challenge, citing a previous decision that the law in question was constitutional. However, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen, the Fifth Circuit withdrew its original opinion and reconsidered, deciding that the law prohibiting individuals subject to qualifying domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms is a violation of the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court will now hear arguments in the case and review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, deciding whether individuals subject to qualifying domestic violence restraining orders can be prohibited from possessing firearms. The decision may also determine the extent of Congress’ power to pass laws that disarm individuals who are not “law-abiding, responsible” citizens. The case presents the first opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify the meaning of the Second Amendment standard established in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, decided in 2022.
78% of Americans, including 75% of Republicans, support laws that prohibit gun possession by those convicted of domestic violence crimes
THE ROLE OF NYSRPA V. BRUEN
The Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen has proven to be as dangerous as predicted — the gun lobby has shown that it can be used to strike down virtually any kind of gun law. Now, the Supreme Court must clarify the decision to ensure that common-sense gun safety laws will be upheld.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court decided that there was an individual right to a firearm to defend “hearth and home.” This upended more than two centuries of legal understanding of the Second Amendment. But under this new interpretation announced by the Supreme Court, many gun laws were still held constitutional. This changed after the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen.
In Bruen, the New York affiliate of the NRA challenged a state law that restricted access to concealed firearm permits to individuals who could show a special need for them. The Supreme Court struck down the New York law as unconstitutional, but also went much further, rejecting the test lower courts had used for 14 years when determining whether firearm laws were constitutional. In doing so, the Supreme Court created a new constitutional test for deciding Second Amendment challenges. That test, now referred to as the Bruen test, says that when a law affects Second Amendment rights, the court must look to the history and tradition of firearm regulation in the United States to determine whether the law is constitutional.
The Supreme Court said that modern firearm regulations do not need a “historical twin” to be constitutional, but there must be a historical law that is “relevantly similar,” determined in part by why the laws were passed and how they are applied.
In the case of Rahimi, the Fifth Circuit’s decision showed how this malleable standard could be read to strike down virtually any gun law. In its decision, the Fifth Circuit wrote that the law in question only applies to a person’s dangerousness in relation to another individual; the Fifth Circuit claimed that historical laws sought to protect all of society from categories of individuals perceived as dangerous. The Fifth Circuit therefore rejected the historical comparisons offered by the government and ruled that there was no relevantly similar law in U.S. history. It therefore found the law unconstitutional.
“Prohibiting domestic violence abusers from accessing firearms is common-sense, life-saving, and constitutional. The Fifth Circuit's decision in Rahimi is egregiously wrong, and is mistaken under the Supreme Court's instructions in the Bruen case. Brady looks forward to the Supreme Court hearing this case and correcting this terribly misguided ruling.”Douglas Letter, Brady Chief Legal Officer
THE RISKS OF ARMING DOMESTIC ABUSERS
Firearms are the weapon of choice for domestic violence homicides
The presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation can threaten, intimidate, psychologically abuse, and force compliance on a partner. It also significantly increases a situation’s likelihood of becoming fatal.
Firearms are the most common weapons used in domestic violence homicides, with female intimate partners more likely to be killed with a gun than by all other means combined. In fact, the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times as likely that a woman will be killed. One-third of women and one-quarter of men are victims of physical intimate partner violence in their lifetime, cutting across gender, racial, sexual, economic, generational, and religious divides. Children are also frequently victims of domestic violence, whether they are abused or witnesses of abuse. Nearly 31% of gun homicides of children under the age of 13 are related to domestic violence.
The Fifth Circuit’s decision sends a message that the safety of domestic violence victims is not as important as domestic abusers’ supposed right to possess a firearm. And while this message is abhorrent, it also ignores an important reality. The actions of Rahimi, and all domestic abusers, do not just pose a threat to the safety and well-being of one individual, but, rather, entire communities. The decision also ignores evidence that shows domestic violence is a precursor to mass shootings — 60% of mass shootings between 2014-2019 were either domestic violence attacks or perpetrated by those with a history of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a tragic reality for far too many people in the U.S., made exponentially more lethal because of easy access to firearms. We must uphold laws intended to protect those who face domestic violence and work to pass even stronger laws so that more lives are not put at risk.
“If the Fifth Circuit’s ruling is allowed to stand, survivors and those at risk of domestic violence, including countless children, will be in incredible danger. The Supreme Court must prioritize survivor safety over a dangerous abuser’s access to firearms and overturn this deadly ruling."Kris Brown, Brady President