The Supreme Court seems likely to uphold a gun ban on domestic abusers on narrow grounds
A majority of Supreme Court justices appeared inclined Tuesday to uphold a 30-year-old federal ban on firearms for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
Meanwhile, during oral arguments in the case United States v. RahimiMany conservative justices appear to be seeking a narrow ruling that would reaffirm a generally expansive view of the Second Amendment.
This case comes at a time when firearms are a major factor in intimate partner violence nationwide. A woman is five times more likely to die from domestic violence if a gun is present, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
The law in question requires state and federal courts to file restraining orders with the National Criminal Background Check System, which in turn prevents attempted gun purchases. More than 77,000 gun sales have been denied under the law since 1998, according to the FBI.
Zaki Rahimi, a Texas drug dealer who was charged with possessing weapons in violation of a restraining order his girlfriend obtained, is challenging the ban as lacking historical precedent. The federal appeals court agreed and said the law should be overturned.
Last year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority said that only laws rooted in American history and tradition could deprive citizens of firearms. Rahimi’s case represents the first major test of the newly issued standard.
“The government is looking into a dark well of American history and sees only a reflection of itself,” Rahimi’s attorney, Matthew Wright, told the justices.
As hundreds of domestic violence survivors and gun safety advocates rallied outside the court, U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Prelogar forcefully defended the law as consistent with the country’s long history of keeping guns from people who don’t abide by the law or aren’t responsible.
“It’s an easy case,” Prelogar said. “The constitutional principle is clear. You can disarm dangerous people.”
She said the law protects against “profound harm” to women, the general public, and law enforcement officers — and that Congress and 48 state legislatures have embraced that view.
“I am astounded by the data showing that armed domestic violence calls are the most dangerous types of calls a police officer must respond to in this country,” Prelogar told the justices. “And as for the officers who die in the line of duty, almost all of them are killed with handguns.”
Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett appeared to show their support for the law. Both noted that — even if there is no “historical twin” of a law banning guns for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders — a person’s “danger” has long been a basis for restricting guns.
The court’s liberal justices, who have sharply criticized the “history and tradition” test for gun restrictions, criticized the fact that a ban on guns for domestic violence offenders is in question before them.
Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson said: “I’m a little disturbed. We have a test of history and tradition that requires the culling of history where only some people’s history matters.”
Justice Elena Kagan pressed Rahimi’s lawyer to appear to not believe what he was arguing.
“Do you think Congress can disarm mentally ill people who are committed to mental institutions?” Kagan asked Wright.
“There is certainly a tradition of restricting the sale or provision of weapons to the mentally ill, so I think ‘maybe’ is the answer to that tradition,” Wright replied.
Kagan accused Wright of ignoring the overall ramifications of his case.
“The implications of your argument are indefensible,” she said. “Your argument applies to a wide range of disarmament and embargo measures, which we take for granted now because it is so clear that people with guns pose a great danger to others, and you don’t give guns to people who have guns.” The type of history of domestic violence or mental illness your client has.”
However, several conservative justices expressed concerns about the potential for the law to deprive nonviolent Americans of their gun rights for an extended period of time — and without due process.
“We’ve been told … that there are situations where a family court judge who has to act quickly and who may not have any investigative resources is faced with a situation he said, and the judge just says, ‘Okay, I’ll make an order like this against both parties,'” Justice Samuel Alito said.
Prelogar doubted it was common.
Justice Clarence Thomas expressed concern that the implications of upholding the law might be too broad: “What if someone were deemed ‘irresponsible’ for not properly storing their firearms?” He said.
Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to echo some of these concerns.
“Liability is a very broad concept,” Roberts said. “I mean, not taking your recycling to the curb on Thursday. I mean, if it’s a serious issue, that’s irresponsible. Setting a bad example, you know, by yelling at a basketball game in a certain way. It seems to me that the responsibility issue is That…what seems irresponsible to some people may seem like, well, no big deal to others.
Prelogar said the standard for a “responsible” citizen should be “danger” regarding the use of firearms.
The justices are scheduled to vote on the case and will spend the coming months drafting a decision expected by the end of June.
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com