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Supreme Court upholds law barring domestic abusers from owning guns in major Second Amendment ruling


By John Fritze, CNN

(CNN) — The Supreme Court upheld a federal law Friday that bars guns for domestic abusers, rejecting an argument pressed by gun rights groups that the prohibition violated the Second Amendment.

The 8-1 decision in one of the court’s most closely watched cases limited the scope of a blockbuster ruling the justices handed down just two years ago that prompted a flood of legal challenges to other gun laws across the nation.

The decision, which placed most of the court’s conservatives and liberals on the same side, could help shore up similar federal gun regulations that have been challenged since the Supreme Court vastly expanded gun rights in 2022, at least in situations where a criminal defendant is considered dangerous. That court’s 2022 ruling caused substantial confusion for lower court judges reviewing Second Amendment lawsuits.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the court had “no trouble” coalescing around the idea that an individual who poses a threat can be denied access to weapons.

“Our tradition of firearm regulation allows the government to disarm individuals who present a credible threat to the physical safety of others,” Roberts wrote.

The chief justice pushed back on the idea that its decision two years ago in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen had hemmed locked lower courts into striking down any gun law that didn’t have a direct historic analogue. Roberts said that some lower courts had “misunderstood the methodology of our recent Second Amendment cases.”

“The court’s ruling today leaves intact a specific federal criminal prohibition on gun possession by those subject to domestic violence-related restraining orders,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

“But there are dozens of other federal and state gun regulations that have been challenged since the court’s 2022 ruling in the Bruen case. The harder cases, like whether Congress can prohibit all felons, or all drug offenders, from possessing firearms, are still to come.”

Several of those cases are already pending at the Supreme Court and could be granted in coming days.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion in Bruen, authored a lone dissent on Friday.

“The court and government do not point to a single historical law revoking a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on possible interpersonal violence,” Thomas wrote. “Yet, in the interest of ensuring the Government can regulate one subset of society, today’s decision puts at risk the Second Amendment rights of many more.”

Challenge from Texas man arrested after series of shootings

At issue in the case was a 1994 law that bars people who are the subject of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns. A Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, was convicted for violating that law following a series of shootings, including one in which police said he fired into the air at a Whataburger restaurant after a friend’s credit card was declined.

Rahimi’s lawyers claimed that the Supreme Court’s blockbuster decision two years ago meant that the law on domestic violence orders could not be squared with the Constitution. A 6-3 majority in Bruen, in the opinion by Thomas, ruled that gun regulations must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

The defense attorneys argued that the founding generation never responded to domestic violence by banning the possession of weapons and, because of that, the government couldn’t do so now. The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals embraced that argument, concluding that a gun ban for people involved in domestic disputes was an “outlier that our ancestors would never have accepted.”

But the Biden administration and domestic violence victims groups noted there were founding-era laws that prohibited dangerous Americans from possessing guns. In other words, they said, when viewed more generally, there were laws that could meet the court’s new history-based test.

Women who are subject to domestic abuse are five times more likely to die at the hands of their abuser if there is a gun in the home, victims groups told the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden applauded the decision Friday.

“As a result of today’s ruling, survivors of domestic violence and their families will still be able to count on critical protections, just as they have for the past three decades,” Biden said in a statement.

Douglas Letter, chief legal office of the gun control group Brady, said that the decision was an “important victory for gun violence and domestic violence prevention.”

Randy Kozuch, the executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, downplayed the significance of Friday’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court’s narrow opinion offers no endorsement of red flag laws or of the dozens of other unconstitutional laws that the NRA is challenging across the country that burden the right of peaceable Americans to keep and bear arms,” Kozuch said in a statement. “This decision holds only that an individual who poses a clear threat of violence may be temporarily disarmed after a judicial finding of dangerousness.”

During oral arguments in November, a majority of the court appeared poised to uphold the law – but several conservative justices had signaled they might be willing to do so only on narrow grounds. That may be in part because a series of related legal challenges are already queued up for the court, including a question of whether non-violent felons can be denied access to firearms.

One of the prohibitions in question has ties to President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who was convicted on June 11 of violating a law that bars possession of a gun by a person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.” Biden is expected to appeal.

In one sense, by upholding the law, the decision was a win for prosecutors in that matter. But the majority also avoided weighing into a legal debate over whether other federal gun prohibitions – such as for non-violence felons – would also be upheld.

The 5th Circuit last year, in a separate case, ruled that the prohibition on drug users is unconstitutional.

Domestic violence victims groups, gun control advocates express relief

Gun-control advocates praised the court’s ruling. “This is a huge victory for survivors and it WILL save lives,” March for Our Lives posted on X. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, said the case shouldn’t have been heard by the high court in the first place and its decision to take it up “shows just how extreme this court has become.”

Advocates for domestic violence survivors have pointed to research that shows the risk of homicide increases by 500% if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation.

Amy Sánchez, CEO of the Battered Women’s Justice Project, said in a statement that the group was “encouraged by the court’s decision.

“Upholding the restriction on firearm access for abusers ensures that these protective measures remain effective and that survivors are not placed at greater risk,” she said.

Ruth Glenn, the president of Survivor Justice Action, an organization that advocates for survivors of domestic violence, told CNN Friday that “today’s ruling only really solidifies that we have more work to do.”

“We need to strengthen protection orders and ensure that they’re enforced as they should be across municipalities, states,” Glenn, who is a survivor of domestic violence, explained.

When asked if she was concerned about attempts in the future to challenge protections for domestic violence victims, Glenn said, “We must vote. From my perspective and the perspective of this organization, elections matter. The survivors block is strong.”

Advocates told CNN prior to Friday’s ruling that even if the high court rules in favor of the federal law, it could possibly set up future challenges, especially in the post-Bruen landscape.

Nel-Sylvia Guzman, the deputy director of Safe Sisters Circle, a nonprofit servicing victims of domestic violence, said proponents of gun rights have looked at the Bruen decision “as a blanket pass for removing any restrictions to, you know, gun rights and gun holders.”

Alito absent from bench again

Justice Samuel Alito was not present for a second day in row as the justices handed down opinions in the Supreme Court’s courtroom.

The court has not responded to questions about his absence.

CNN’s Owen Dahlkamp, Kaanita Iyer and Piper Hudspeth Blackburn contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional developments and reaction.

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