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Supreme Court rejects gun rights for people charged with domestic violence

In an 8-1 decision, justices upheld federal and state laws that take away guns from persons who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. (Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday put new limits on the 2nd Amendment, ruling that dangerous people who have threatened a domestic partner may be denied their right to have guns.

The 8-1 decision upholds federal and state laws that take away guns from persons who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

“Since the founding, our nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts, writing for the majority.

The outcome shows that moderate conservative justices are willing to restrict 2nd Amendment. The court reversed a ruling by the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which had struck down part of the Violence Against Women Act. The law authorized judges to remove guns from persons who posed a “credible threat” to a domestic partner or a child.

In the past, gun rights advocates had argued that a responsible and law-abiding person has a right to have a gun for self-defense, and the Supreme Court had agreed.

But the defendant in this case could not be easily described as law-abiding or responsible. Texas police said Zackey Rahimi was a drug dealer who had shot at people and cars five times within a month in December 2020.

They said he had fired into the house of a man who he said had been “talking trash” about him on social media. He also shot at a driver after getting into an auto accident, and fired wildly into the air “after a friend’s credit card was declined at a fast-food restaurant,” prosecutors said.

A year before the five shooting incidents, Rahimi had been brought before a judge in Arlington, Texas, because he had beaten and threatened a girlfriend who had a child with him. He grabbed her in a parking lot, forced her into his car and shot at a bystander who saw what happened. He later threatened to kill the woman if she reported the assault.

The federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 said judges may enforce restraining orders that take away firearms from someone who has harassed or threatened an “intimate partner” or a child, and who poses a “credible threat.”

The judge issued a restraining order for two years that denied Rahimi the right to have firearms and warned him he would be guilty of a federal crime if he defied the order. Rahimi agreed, but then defied the order, including by threatening the woman again.

When police went to arrest Rahimi for the shooting incidents, they found a .45-caliber pistol, a .308-caliber rifle, magazines for both pistols and rifles, ammunition, approximately $20,000 in cash, and a signed copy of a court restraining order that prohibited him from having firearms.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury, pleaded guilty to violating the restraining order and was sentenced to six years in prison.

But last year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Rahimi, overturning his conviction and declaring unconstitutional the part of the federal law that denied guns to those accused of domestic violence.

The three-judge panel, which included two Donald Trump appointees, agreed it was laudable to “protect vulnerable people in our society,” but said the “the 2nd Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans …. Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless among the people entitled to the 2nd Amendment’s guarantees.”


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