Domestic abusers cannot own guns, US Supreme Court rules

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Domestic abusers cannot own guns, US Supreme Court rules
Actress Julianne Moore speaks outside the court during November arguments

BBC | People placed under restraining orders for domestic violence do not have a right to own guns, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The 8-1 decision upholds a 30-year-old law that bars those with restraining orders for domestic abuse from owning firearms.

At the centre of the case was Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who was indicted under the 1994 law but filed an appeal after the court significantly expanded gun rights in a 2022 ruling.

In that ruling, the court decided the US constitution's guarantee of the right “to keep and bear arms” protects a broad right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defence.

It also created a new test for gun laws, saying they must be rooted in "historical tradition".

That allowed Rahimi to appeal against his conviction under the 1994 law, arguing it did not pass the new test, and take the fight all the way to the country's highest court.

During a November hearing, Rahimi's lawyer, James Matthew Wright, said he could find no historical precedent for people being disarmed, save those convicted of a felony - which does not include the subjects of restraining orders.

The US government, wanting to keep the law in place, argued that "dangerous" individuals, such as loyalists to Britain in the American Revolutionary War era, had been disarmed in the past.

The government's lawyer also said women living in a home with an armed domestic abuser were five times more likely to be murdered.

Rahimi, 23, a small-time drug dealer, according to court filings, is serving a six-year sentence in a Texas federal prison. He is also awaiting a state trial.

In 2020, his then-girlfriend was granted a restraining order by a court after he dragged her into his car, causing her to hit her head on the dashboard, during an argument near his Arlington, Texas, home. He also shot at a bystander who witnessed the assault.

Despite a court order suspending his handgun licence and barring him from possessing any firearms, he kept his weapons and was involved in five shootings in public later that year.

In a hand-written letter from jail last year, however, he said he would "stay away from all firearms and weapons” once he is released.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the court's opinion on Friday.

"When a restraining order contains a finding that an individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner, that individual may - consistent with the Second Amendment - be banned from possessing firearms," he wrote.

"Since the founding, our Nation's firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms."

Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, was the only one of the nine judges to dissent.

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