Friday, the Supreme Court said it would look into whether the government can stop people with domestic violence orders from having guns. This will be a big test of its decision from last year, which greatly increased people’s right to carry guns in public.
The case will depend on how far a new legal standard set by that decision goes. Because it is based on past practices, it has caused confusion as courts have tried to apply it, with some judges throwing out gun laws that have been in place for decades.
It comes as the country tries to deal with a seemingly never-ending string of mass shootings and other gun violence, and about a year after Congress briefly broke its partisan deadlock to pass a small bipartisan gun control law.
In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which happened last year, the court overturned a New York rule that made it hard to carry guns outside the home by a vote of 6 to 3.
Lawyers on both sides of the problem saw the court’s decision to hear a Second Amendment case in its next term as an attempt to define the limits of the Bruen decision and maybe come up with a clearer set of rules.
Noah Lumbantobing, a spokesman for March for Our Lives, which was started by students after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, said that if the court took up the case, it would be “an opportunity to clean up some of the legal mess” from last year.
Some conservative law experts are worried that the court will change what it decided last year. Stephen Halbrook, a lawyer who has fought gun cases in court, recently said that this case was a “bad vehicle” to do so because the defendant, Zackey Rahimi, didn’t seem like the right person to own a gun in any situation.
Since 2008, when it ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that people have the right to keep guns in their homes for self-defense, the Supreme Court has only made two important decisions about the Second Amendment. In McDonald v. Chicago, which came out two years later, the court made the Heller ruling, which was about federal gun laws, apply to state and local ones as well.
The tweet below verifies the news:
Breaking News: The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on whether people subject to domestic violence orders can be forbidden from having guns. https://t.co/W8MOwHbR5l
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 30, 2023
After that, there was more than a decade of silence, and the court turned down many appeals of rulings that upheld gun control laws, which made some of its conservative members angry. The situation changed when three judges picked by President Donald J. Trump took their seats. This gave conservatives a supermajority on the court.
The court’s reasoning behind the Bruen decision was just as important as the decision itself.
The majority opinion, which was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, set a new standard for how courts should judge restrictions on gun rights. “The government must show that the regulation is consistent with this country’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” the opinion said.
He wrote that the constitutionality of current gun control laws relies on whether similar laws existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Justice Thomas agreed that the new rule wasn’t perfect.
Justice Thomas wrote, “Analogical reasoning only requires the government to find a well-known and representative historical analog, not a historical twin.” “So, even if a modern rule isn’t an exact copy of a rule from the past, it may still be similar enough to pass constitutional muster.”
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In March, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans unanimously agreed that the new standard meant they had to throw out a federal law that said people with domestic violence orders couldn’t have guns because there was no historical basis for it.
Court records say that the case, United States v. Rahimi, No. 22-915, is about Mr. Rahimi, a drug dealer in Texas who has a history of gun violence. Mr. Rahimi beat up his girlfriend in 2019 and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone, so she got a protection order against him. The order took Mr. Rahimi’s weapons license away and said he couldn’t have guns.
He used a gun to threaten a different woman, so he was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Then, over the next two months, he shot five times in public.
He shot an AR-15 gun into the home of a person to whom he had sold drugs because he was angry about something they had written on social media. When a fast-food restaurant turned down a friend’s credit card, he shot several rounds into the air.
After the killings, Mr. Rahimi’s house was searched and weapons were found. He was charged with breaking federal law.
After a judge turned down his argument that the rule violated the Second Amendment, he pleaded guilty and was given more than six years in prison. The Fifth Circuit upheld his conviction at first in a short decision. In a footnote, it rejected the argument that the rule was against the Second Amendment.
But after the Bruen ruling in June of last year, the appeals court changed its mind.
The government brought up a number of old laws as possible historical parallels to the one about domestic violence orders, but the Fifth Circuit threw them out because they were not similar enough. Judge Cory T. Wilson wrote for the panel that many of them “disarmed groups of people who were thought to be dangerous,” such as slaves, Native Americans, and people who wouldn’t take an oath of loyalty.
He wrote that this was different from domestic violence orders, which decide on a case-by-case basis how dangerous a person is.
Judge Wilson, who was picked by Trump, wrote that the government’s claim that it could take guns away from people who didn’t follow the law “admits to no true limiting principle.”
He asked, “Could speeders lose their right to keep and bear arms?” “Nonconformists in politics? People who don’t recycle or drive an electric car?”
Judge Wilson said that the federal rule at issue in the case “embodies salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society.” But he said that the way the Bruen case told courts to do things didn’t let them weigh the benefits of the law against its costs. He wrote that it was important that “our ancestors would never have accepted” the rule on domestic violence orders.
Judge James C. Ho, who was also appointed by Mr. Trump, said in a similar ruling that there were other ways to protect victims of domestic abuse.
“Those who commit violence, including domestic violence,” he wrote, “shouldn’t just be disarmed; they should be detained, prosecuted, found guilty, and put in jail.” And that’s exactly why we have a criminal justice system: to punish thieves and stop them from committing more crimes.
But Judge Ho said that orders to stop domestic violence came from the civil court system and could be used in bad ways.
“That makes it hard to justify” the law Mr. Rahimi was trying to change as a way to keep dangerous people from getting guns, he wrote.
Last year, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the new test asked judges to do things they had never done before in the Bruen case.
Justice Breyer, who left a few days after writing this, said that judges are not historians. “Legal experts usually don’t have much experience answering disputed questions about the past or using those answers to solve problems in the present,” he wrote.
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