Feb 2, 2023
Domestic Abusers Have Gun Rights Too, US Appeals Court Rules
(Bloomberg) -- The decades-old US law barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms contradicts the nation’s “historical tradition” of access to guns even for people who may not be “model citizens,” an appeals court said in a ruling that prompted a Justice Department rebuke.
The statute is unconstitutional because it gives too much power to Congress to determine who qualifies as “law-abiding, responsible citizens” when it comes to gun ownership, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday. A unanimous three-judge panel wondered: who’s next?
“Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms? Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?” the New Orleans-based court asked in the decision.
The ruling vacated 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 for assaulting his former girlfriend. It’s the latest fallout from a US Supreme Court ruling in June that paved the way for courts to reconsider a wide variety of gun restrictions.
Read More: Supreme Court Opens Path to More Guns in Public in Big US Cities
“Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal,” said the appellate panel, comprised of two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump and one by Ronald Reagan.
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.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Congress passed the law 30 years ago after determining “that a person who is subject to a court order that restrains him or her from threatening an intimate partner or child cannot lawfully possess a firearm.”
“Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, that statute is constitutional,” Garland said. “Accordingly, the department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision.”
Rahimi’s lawyer, James Matthew Wright, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta called the decision “dangerous,” noting that firearms are used to commit more than half of all “intimate partner homicides” in the US. He said restraining orders in his state still bar possession of guns and urged residents “to utilize these life-saving tools.”
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement that the 5th Circuit 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,” Shannon 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).
(Updates with comment from US attorney general.)
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