US Supreme Court leans toward allowing domestic-violence gun curbs

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By Andrew Chung and John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared inclined to uphold the legality of a federal law that makes it a crime for people under domestic violence restraining orders to have guns in the latest major case to test the willingness of its conservative majority to further expand gun rights.

The justices heard arguments in an appeal by President Joe Biden’s administration of a lower court’s ruling striking down the law – intended to protect victims of domestic abuse – as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the measure failed a stringent test set by the Supreme Court in a 2022 ruling that required gun laws to be “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” in order to survive a Second Amendment challenge.

Some of the conservative justices questioned the scope of the administration’s argument that, under the Second Amendment, people who are not law-abiding and responsible – categories that include domestic abusers – may be barred from possessing firearms.

Some of their questions, however, signaled openness to a standard that would permit laws that disarm people deemed dangerous, as opposed to merely irresponsible.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts focused on the word “responsible,” suggesting that it was too broad.

“I mean, not taking your recycling to the curb on Thursdays, if it’s a serious problem it’s irresponsible,” Roberts said, adding that “what seems irresponsible to some people might seem like, well, it’s not a big deal to others.” He also cited examples of a person who gets in a fist fight at a sports event or drives a small amount over the speed limit.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, defending the law on behalf of the Biden administration, told Roberts that she was not using the term “not responsible” in a colloquial sense, instead asserting “the principle of responsibility as being intrinsically tied to the danger you would present if you had access to firearms.”

“And the reason that we use the term ‘not responsible’ is because it is the standard this court has articulated” in its three major gun rights rulings in the past 15 years, Prelogar said.


Prelogar also told the justices that the law fits within the nation’s tradition of taking guns from people deemed dangerous, thus meeting the standard the court itself has established for withstanding a Second Amendment challenge.

“Throughout our nation’s history, legislatures have disarmed those who have committed serious criminal conduct or whose access to guns poses a danger. For example, loyalists, rebels, minors, individuals with mental illness, felons and drug addicts,” Prelogar said.

The case involves Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who pleaded guilty to illegally possessing guns in violation of the law at issue on Tuesday while he was subject to a restraining order for assaulting his girlfriend in a parking lot and later threatening to shoot her. Police found the guns while searching his residence in connection with at least five shootings.

Advocacy groups have warned of the grave danger posed by armed abusers, citing studies that show that the presence of guns increases the chances that an abused intimate partner will die.

Prelogar made the point as well and also told the justices, “Armed abusers also pose great danger to police officers responding to domestic violence calls and to the public at large – as Zackey Rahimi’s own conduct shows.”

“To address that acute threat, Congress and 48 states and territories temporarily disarm individuals subject to domestic violence protective orders,” Prelogar added.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Prelogar whether the court needed to use “law-abiding and responsible” as the relevant test “given some of the ambiguities in that phrase.”

Barrett asked, “Could I just say, it’s dangerousness?”

In a nation bitterly divided over how to address firearms violence including frequent mass shootings, the court’s 6-3 conservative majority has taken an expansive view of the Second Amendment and has broadened gun rights in three landmark rulings since 2008.

Its 2022 ruling in a case called New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen recognized a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self defense, striking down a New York state law.

Violating the law initially was punishable by up to 10 years in prison but has since been raised to 15 years.

Supporters of Rahimi have argued that judges too easily issue restraining orders in an unfair process that results in the deprivation of the constitutional gun rights of accused abusers.

Outside the Supreme Court building, about 250 people attended a rally organized by gun safety and domestic violence prevention groups, urging the justices to overturn the 5th Circuit ruling. They carried signs reading “Gun Laws Save Lives,” “Protect Survivors,” and “No Guns for DV (domestic violence) Abusers.”

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

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