U.S. Supreme Court justices during Tuesday’s oral arguments seemed to lean toward upholding a federal law that prevents the possession of firearms by a person who is subject to a domestic violence protective order.
Liberal and conservative justices appeared to side with the Biden administration’s position that the 1994 federal law is in line with the longstanding practice of disarming dangerous people and does not violate an individual’s Second Amendment rights.
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, argued that there is historical precedent in the ability of Congress to “disarm those who are not law-abiding, responsible citizens.”
“Throughout our nation’s history, legislatures have disarmed those who have committed serious criminal conduct or whose access to guns poses a danger,” she said.
The case, United States v. Rahimi, made its way up to the Supreme Court after the Biden administration asked the justices to review a decision earlier this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that struck down a federal law that bars people under domestic violence orders from having firearms.
In 2019, Zackey Rahimi assaulted his girlfriend in Arlington, Texas, and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone, which led to a restraining order that suspended his handgun license and prohibited him from possessing firearms.
Rahimi did not adhere to that order and then threatened another woman with a gun, and then within two months opened fire in public five times.
Rahimi, who is currently in jail, wrote in a letter obtained by the New York Times, that he would no longer carry a gun and “stay away from all firearms and weapons.”
Following on earlier decision
The ruling from the 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, came after a decision from the Supreme Court last year in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen.
In that case, the conservative Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 that New York state’s concealed carry law violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution — a major decision that expanded the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Taking the Bruen decision into consideration, the 5th Circuit vacated Rahimi’s conviction on the grounds that the federal law violated his Second Amendment rights.
Prelogar argued that the lower court misinterpreted the Bruen decision.
“Congress can disarm armed domestic abusers in light of those profound concerns,” she said in her closing remarks.
J. Matthew Wright, a federal public defender in North Texas, argued for his client Rahimi. He at one point retreated from his initial argument that the law as passed by Congress amounted to an automatic disarmament because it takes away firearms from those subject to protective orders.
Justice Elena Kagan asked Wright if Congress can bar people who have a history of mental illness from owning firearms.
He said there is a tradition of restricting gun sales when it came to people who have mental illnesses.
“I feel like you’re running away from your argument because the implications of your argument are just so untenable,” Kagan said.
“It just seems to me that your argument applies to a wide variety of disarming actions, bans … it’s so obvious that people who have guns pose a great danger to others, and you don’t give guns to people who have the kind of history of domestic violence that your client has, or to the mentally ill,” Kagan continued.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that there was no doubt that Rahimi was a threat to public safety.
“You don’t have any doubt that your client is a dangerous person, do you?” he asked Wright.
Wright said he would want to know the definition of “dangerous person.”
Roberts answered for him. “Someone who is shooting at people,” he said. “That’s a good start.”
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