High Court Ruling Upholds Law Disarming Domestic Violence Abusers

In an 8-to-1 ruling, the justices upheld the constitutionality of a federal law that makes it a crime for a person under a restraining order in a domestic violence case from owning firearms.

Women’s rights advocates are hailing last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that takes away the right of those subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning or purchasing firearms.

In an 8-to-1 ruling, the justices upheld the constitutionality of a federal law that makes it a crime for a person under a restraining order in a domestic violence case from owning firearms. It limits a controversial standard the high court’s conservatives had set down in 2022 that required gun prohibitions to have a connection to historical practices to survive constitutional scrutiny.

“When an individual poses a clear threat of physical violence to another, the threatening individual may be disarmed,” said Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.

In a press release put out by the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), the group noted that the ruling acknowledges that guns must be kept away from people who commit acts of domestic violence, as they have been proven to increase lethality in abusive situations. CPEDV filed a brief supporting the law.

A woman is five times more likely to be killed if the intimate partner abusing her has access to a firearm, according to the CPEDV. Black women are twice as likely to be shot and killed by an intimate partner.

Justice Thomas argued that instead of encroaching on a person’s Second Amendment right, the better way of dealing with a dangerous person is by prosecuting them for criminal violence.

Days after the June 21 ruling US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a first-of-its-kind report declaring gun violence a public health crisis. “I want people to understand the full impact gun violence is having on the United States,” Murthy told the BBC in an interview.

There were some 48,000 firearm-related deaths — or 132 people per day — in the US in 2022, according to provisional data.

SCOTUS’s ruling notwithstanding, abusers with restraining orders can still sneak guns during visitations with their children. A case in point happened in March 2022, when David Mora, a 39-year-old immigrant, fatally shot his three daughters ages 13, 10 and 9 at the time, during a supervised visitation at a church in Sacramento. He then shot the chaperone supervising the visit, before turning the gun on himself.

Mora was out on bail after being arrested five days earlier on charges of resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and driving under the influence. In response to a court filing for a five-year-restraining order submitted his ex-girlfriend and mother of their children, Mora said he had no guns. His ex-girlfriend also said she was not aware of him having guns.

“There were gaps in the order” that allowed him to have access to guns, said Krista Colon, senior director of public policy strategies at CPEDV. She said the visitations should have been in a “more secured location.”

Every time domestic violence survivor Anjali Raj called the police on her former partner after he violently abused her, it didn’t take him long to retrieve his guns from the police within days after he was released, she said.

Raj, who lives in the Bay Area, said she dropped the charges against him after every arrest, out of fear of what he might do to her and their two children, now 7 and 8, and her elderly parents. And to add to her fears, he would display the weapons on a countertop as a threat, she said.

“Why was he allowed to reclaim them when he had a history of abuse?” Raj said.

They are now separated and have shared custody of their children. She said that because she has been unable to hire a good attorney she has never been able to get justice from the court.

According to a new report from California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office, the number of protective orders issued in California to limit access to firearms for people deemed dangerous increased by 20% between 2020 and 2023.

Last week’s high court ruling stemmed from a case involving a Texas man named Zackey Rahimi, with a history of armed violence against girlfriends and shootings in public places. While under a protective order, prosecutors said he shot his gun at least six times in public, once at his former partner and mother of his child and once allegedly at another woman while in a parking lot.

The June 21 ruling keeps in tact a California law that mandates that guns should be removed from those with restraining orders against them, Colon said.

In a related issue, San Francisco and San Diego are trying to increase the utilization of red flag laws, also known as Gun Violence Restraining Orders, to help keep guns out of dangerous situations. In 2016, California became one of the first states to enact a GVRO, after a mass shooting in Isla Vista that killed seven people.

The law allows law enforcement, household members, family teachers, employers and co-workers to request that a judge temporarily remove access to another person’s firearm if they pose a significant threat.