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Domestic abusers have gun rights too, US appeals court rules

Raquel Gabin (left) hugs her mother Joseline Castanos while listening to speakers during the Moms Demand Action Gun Violence Rally on June 8, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images/TNS)
February 04, 2023

The decades-old U.S. law barring Americans who commit domestic-violence from possessing guns contradicts the nation’s “historical tradition” of access to firearms even for people who aren’t “model citizens,” a federal appeals court ruled.

The U.S. Justice Department’s idea of who qualifies as “law-abiding, responsible citizens” when it comes to gun ownership would allow Congress to restrict the 2nd Amendment for anyone it deems unworthy, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a decision Thursday finding the law unconstitutional.

“Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms?” the New Orleans-based court asked in the decision. “Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?”

The appeals court’s unanimous decision vacates the conviction of a Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, who pleaded guilty to violating the law by keeping a pistol at home despite being subject to a civil domestic-violence restraining order in February 2020 for assaulting his former girlfriend.

The ruling is the latest fallout from a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a New York law limiting who could carry a gun in public and paved the way for courts to reconsider a wide variety of gun restrictions.

“Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal,” the appellate panel, comprised of two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump and one by Ronald Reagan, said in its decision.

Rahimi’s home was searched after he was involved in five shootings in a two-month span, including firing at a law enforcement vehicle in December 2020, firing at a driver after getting in a car accident and shooting multiple rounds in the air in January 2021 “after his friend’s credit card was declined at a Whataburger restaurant,” the appeals court said.

Rahimi’s lawyer, James Matthew Wright, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The Justice Department also didn’t immediately return a message.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement that the decision should be overturned.

“This extreme and dangerous ruling is a death sentence for women and families as domestic violence is far too often a precursor to gun violence,” Watts said. “When someone is able to secure a restraining order, we must do everything possible to keep them and their families safe — not empower the abuser with easy access to firearms.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.

The case is USA v. Rahimi, 21-11001, US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).


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