ACLU Comment on Supreme Court Decision Upholding Restrictions on Gun Possession by Individuals Subject to Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

June 21, 2024 11:03 am

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WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal criminal law that makes it a felony for anyone subject to a civil domestic violence restraining order to possess a gun. The court of appeals below invalidated the federal law because it found no analogues that restricted gun possession for those who commit domestic violence in the 1700s or 1800s, a time when federal and state governments largely ignored domestic violence.

“This case threatened to reinvigorate the historical subordination of women, exploiting a time when women were legally subjugated to men in order to limit our rights today,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We’re glad the Supreme Court affirmed that the government can enact laws aimed at preventing intimate partner violence, consistent with the Second Amendment.”

In upholding the law, the court rejected an expansive argument proposed by the United States and adopted a narrower theory the ACLU advanced. The American Civil Liberties Union submitted an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the law, but on narrower grounds than those advanced by the United States. The ACLU’s brief argued that imposing time-limited firearms restrictions based on civil restraining orders is a critical tool for protecting those who have experienced domestic violence and face a threat of further violence, and finds support in common law analogues disarming persons found dangerous. But the ACLU urged the court to reject the United States’ argument that gun rights extend only to “responsible citizens.” The court expressly rejected that theory.

The court’s approval of the law at issue in United States v. Rahimi should not foreclose careful consideration of other gun laws. As the ACLU’s amicus brief observed, neighboring subsections of the statute at issue in Rahimi impose categorical prohibitions on all persons with a felony conviction, persons who use drugs, persons who are deemed mentally unfit, and certain noncitizens, among others. Those overbroad prohibitions raise distinct Second Amendment concerns.

More generally, the ACLU has important policy and constitutional concerns with gun laws. Criminal enforcement of overbroad gun laws fuels mass incarceration and the disproportionate imprisonment of Black people and other people of color. Moreover, gun laws can raise due process, equal protection, and excessive punishment concerns — none of which are addressed by this case.

The ACLU amicus brief is available here.

United States v. Rahimi is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

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