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Why the Supreme Court’s Recent Opinion on the Domestic Violence Gun Ban Is So Important

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an

White marble columns outside of a courthouse

incredibly important ruling related to two hot button issues: domestic violence and gun rights. This decision upheld the federal domestic violence gun ban, which means that a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order cannot possess firearms. Below, we break down the decision – and what it means for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

 

The Challenge to the Domestic Violence Gun Ban

The Supreme Court case started in Texas, where a man named Zackey Rahimi was indicted by the federal government for possessing a firearm while subject to a domestic violence protection order. In 2019, Rahimi physically assaulted his then-girlfriend in a parking lot and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone what had happened. She sought a protective order against him and introduced evidence of both the assault in the parking lot as well as prior abuse. The court entered a domestic violence protective order with the consent of both parties, finding that Rahimi was a threat to the physical safety of both his ex-girlfriend and their child.

 

Later, Rahimi was found in possession of firearms. Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone convicted of a felony, subject to a domestic violence protective order, or convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to own or possess a firearm. Rahimi was indicted for this crime. He challenged the indictment, arguing that the domestic violence gun ban violated his Second Amendment rights.

 

While the trial court denied his motion to dismiss the indictment, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the federal domestic violence gun ban violated the Second Amendment. Its reasoning was based on a 2022 Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, which determined that the government must prove that modern laws that restrict gun possession must be analogous to historical firearm laws.

 

In June, the Supreme Court overturned the Fifth Circuit. In United States v. Rahimi, the Supreme Court determined that when an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another person, they can be temporarily restricted from possessing firearms. In reaching this decision, the Supreme Court reasoned that the right to bear arms is not unlimited – and found that there are historical laws that restricted people from misusing weapons to harm or threaten others. As such, the domestic violence gun ban was upheld.

 

The Impact on Victims and Survivors of Domestic Violence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half – 55% –  of all female homicide victims were killed by a current or former intimate partner. These numbers are even higher for Black, Hispanic, and Native American women. The data shows that a person’s access to firearms is one of the biggest risk factors for domestic violence turning deadly. A woman in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be killed by a male partner when there is a firearm in the house.

 

People who engage in domestic violence may also be more likely to commit acts of violence against others. Studies show that 68% of mass shooters between 2014 and 2019 had a history of domestic violence and/or killed an intimate partner or family members in the shooting. By removing firearms from people who abuse others, we may not just be protecting their partner and family – but the community as a whole.

 

Research shows that domestic violence gun bans work. One study showed that domestic violence firearm protections are associated with significant reductions in intimate partner violence. By disarming people who pose a threat of violence to others, we can protect public health and reduce the likelihood of a violent or fatal assault using firearms.

 

While this decision is a good thing, more can still be done to disarm people who abuse to further protect victims and survivors of domestic violence. For example, in some states, a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order can simply tell the court that they will give their guns to another person – and not even specify who that person is.  There are also many loopholes in domestic violence laws – such as narrow definitions about who can seek a restraining order under state law. Tightening up these laws will go a long way towards protecting victims and survivors as we work to address the root causes of this type of abuse.

 

How Blackburn Center Can Help

In Pennsylvania, victims of abuse can seek an order of protection against a person who is abusing them. Known as a protection from abuse order or PFA, these orders are just one part of a larger plan to be safe from abuse. Importantly, a PFA is not always the most effective or safest option. Our counselors can talk you through your options, available resources, and help you make a decision that is best for you.

 

If you are in an abusive relationship, we are here to help. You can reach a trained crisis counselor anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). Calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous. 

 

 

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