Is it constitutional for laws in the United States to order that people under domestic violence orders may be disarmed?
In 2022, Supreme Court justices overturned one law restricting guns. But last week, they seemed to support gun restrictions in a new case involving domestic violence. Yet during oral arguments last week in United States v. Rahimi, two Christian groups, one of them “pro-family,” opposed restrictions that may protect wives and partners.
Everyone agrees Zackey Rahimi was a bad dude who worked as a drug dealer in Texas. In 2020, he assaulted his then-girlfriend before firing a gun at a person who witnessed the abuse. A protective order was issued to keep him away from his girlfriend and his guns.
“A woman who lives in a house with a domestic abuser is five times more likely to be murdered if he has access to a gun.”
But after he bought more guns, fired them at others, and was charged with violating his restraining order, he argued the law preventing people like him from having guns is unconstitutional. Gun rights groups and two Christian activist organizations agree that even someone like Rahimi should not have to sacrifice his Second Amendment rights.
Supreme Court justices surprised some observers by seeming to side with the government attorney defending the restrictions.
“A woman who lives in a house with a domestic abuser is five times more likely to be murdered if he has access to a gun,” said the government’s attorney, arguing Congress is right to disarm those “who are not law abiding, responsible citizens.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett issued a ruling supporting domestic violence orders before she joined the Supreme Court in Oct. 2020.
In 2022, when the court struck down a century-old New York law restricting concealed handguns, Justice Clarence Thomas articulated a novel criterion for judging the constitutionality of gun laws: Today’s laws must be based on yesterday’s practices.
Because early Americans had no law against concealed handguns, Thomas said New York couldn’t restrict them in 2022, and the court agreed in a 6-3 decision that overturned New York’s modern law.
“Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s unqualified command,” Thomas wrote in the 2022 case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen.
“Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s unqualified command.”
That set the stage for the current challenge.
And now, several Christian groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs voicing their support for allowing gun restrictions for violent abusers, including the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, Nuns Against Gun Violence, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team, Sojourners, as well as Jewish, Episcopalian and Muslim leaders and several nonprofit urban ministries.
Two faith-based groups that oppose gun restrictions for people under domestic violence orders say they are following the beliefs of their founders, Phyllis Schlafly and former Judge Roy Moore.
Schlafly, a Catholic, battled communism as a member of the Joh Birch Society in the 1950s and campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1960s. In 1972 she founded her pro-family group, Eagle Forum, to protect women and families from the perceived harms of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her effort is widely credited with preventing the amendment’s adoption.
Now, two successor groups — Phyllis Schlafly Eagles and the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund — are fighting restrictions that could protect wives and partners of abusers with guns.
“Domestic violence charges are commonly over-prosecuted,” said the Schlafly brief. “This case is more political than legal.”
The brief included three claims against restrictions:
- Restraining orders often are used tactically to gain advantage in custody battles and divorces and have no reliability for criminal law purposes.
- Domestic violence is over-prosecuted, against the wishes of complainants.
- California remains high in violent crime despite its gun control.
Roy Moore gained fame for installing a monument featuring the Ten Commandments in Alabama’s state judicial building and refusing the state’s Supreme Court order to remove it.
Moore twice served as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and was twice removed.
When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2017, a handful of women credibly claimed he had sexually abused them as minors but Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and other evangelical leaders backed Moore anyway.
Now, Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law seems to be objecting to any form of gun restrictions for people under domestic violence orders in a brief written by lead counsel and Christian nationalist John Eidsmoe.
“The United States of America as we know it owes its existence to the right of private ownership of firearms,” said the group’s brief, which sought to respond to Justice Thomas’s new legal standard: “Analyzing a regulation limiting firearms only requires one question: is it “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation?”
No, they say. “The Founders would have never tolerated Congress passing a law restricting firearm ownership.”